by Simon Daish
Considered to be a major contender to win silverware when the event heads to Nantes in 2019, but the Netherlands came close to slipping up in its second qualifying Group A2 match. Ivana Malobabic and Mateja Jeger contributed positive results for Croatia with victories over Britt Eerland (11-6, 11-9, 11-8) and Kim Vermaas (11-7, 11-6, 9-11, 11-6) helping the hosts to a strong start in Pula.
Li Jie handed the Dutch side a significant boost, beating Ida Jazbec (7-11, 12-10, 11-2, 11-9) and Dorina Srebrnjak (11-8, 11-5, 11-4) to force a deciding fixture: Defeat in the opening contest of the match but Britt Eerland made amends in the final encounter of the tie with a four games victory over Ida Jazbec (13-11, 12-10, 8-11, 11-5) leading to a 3-2 win for the Netherlands.
Sweden excelled on its first Group A3 outing, claiming a terrific result in front of the home fans in Stockholm; the hosts made an excellent start against visitors Russia with Li Fen and Matilda Ekholm overcoming challenges from Yana Noskova (7-11, 11-7, 13-11, 7-11, 11-9) and Polina Mikhailova (11-6, 14-12, 11-9).
Mariia Tailakova responded with Russia’s only success of the match, coming out on top against Linda Bergström (11-5, 6-11, 11-5, 12-10) but a second win for Li Fen, who saw off Polina Mikhailova in a five games thriller (10-12, 11-5, 8-11, 11-9, 11-5), completed the job for the Swedish line-up.
Another team beginning its qualifying campaign on a promising note was Ukraine with Margaryta Pesotska, Solomiya Bratenko and Ganna Gaponova proving too strong for Poland in Group A6. Austria and Germany also prevailed in the second round of group fixtures with victories away to Portugal and Luxembourg.
Turkey and Lithuania continued to impress in Group B2 and Group B4, emerging successful in their respective encounters with Denmark and Israel while the Slovak Republic and Serbia also earned positive outcomes. Greece opposes England on Tuesday 24th April.
Qualifying directly to the 2019 ITTF-European Team Championships are the teams finishing in first and second positions in each of the six groups of Group A. The six teams finishing in third position of each group in Group A will move through to Stage 2 along with Group B winners and runners-up.