by Simon Daish
Victorious in the opening round of Group A3 matches but Sweden experienced a big setback in its second group stage tie, suffering a stunning 3-2 away defeat in Spain.
Carlos Machado was the match hero for the hosts, claiming victories over Anton Källberg (13-15, 11-6, 11-8, 11-8) and Jon Persson (11-9, 8-11, 11-6, 12-10) with the home side’s third success coming courtesy of Jesús Cantero; he accounted for up-and-coming Swedish star Truls Moregard in straight games (11-6, 12-10, 11-6) as Spain opened its campaign in style.
Crowned champions at the Liebherr 2015 European Championships, Austria has made the perfect start to its qualifying journey for the 2019 edition of the event following an outstanding performance against Portugal in Group A1.
The tie opened on a positive note for the home team with Stefan Fegerl prevailing over João Geraldo in four ends (6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7) before successful outings from Robert Gardos and Daniel Habesohn in their respective encounters with Marcos Freitas (9-11, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 11-4) and Tiago Apolonia (9-11, 11-9, 11-13, 11-8, 11-8) handed Austria the win.
There was a dramatic comeback in Moscow as Russia recovered from a 0-2 deficit to defeat visitors Greece by a 3-2 score-line and a similar story unfolded in Bucharest but in the away team’s favour as Romania saw its commanding lead shattered by opponents Slovenia. Elsewhere, the Croatian team won on its travels to Poland while the Slovak Republic got the better of Ukraine.
Italy earned its second consecutive victory in Group B2 with Mihai Bobocica’s brace proving important in Israel and there was a second Group B3 success for the Netherlands, powering to a 3-0 win away to Estonia. Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Norway and the Czech Republic also secured victories while Lithuania prevailed seven days earlier in Ireland.
The six group winners and six runners-up in Group A will qualify directly to the 2019 ITTF-European Team Championships while the six teams finishing bottom of each group will join the Group B winners and runners-up in a further qualifying stage.