by Simon Daish
Japan Stunned And French Woes
Starting with group stage action it didn’t take long for the first big shock to occur and it came courtesy of England, who most impressively saw off Japan to finish at the summit of Group C in the Men’s Championship Division.
Victorious against Chinese Taipei on the morning of day two, England went on to stun 2016 runners up Japan with Liam Pitchford’s brace against Tomokazu Harimoto (11-5, 11-5, 11-3) and Jun Mizutani (11-4, 9-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8) leading to an impressive 3-1 win for the 12th seeded team.
England went on to top the group with an unbeaten record but the same couldn’t be said for France, who failed to progress from their group, finishing with a perfect 3-0 victory over Poland. Croatia’s shock win against Korea Republic, however, saw fourth seeds France miss out on a spot in the top 12 on games ratio.
Alphabet Problems But Romania Tops Difficult Group
The talk of the town in the group stage of the Women’s Championship Division came from Group C as European champions Romania fought back from the brink to top the group.
Romania’s qualification hopes took a major hit on the opening day of play when coach Viorel Filimon turned up late for the coin toss which in turn meant that he was unable to pick his line-up for the match against the Netherlands. The decision was taken that Romania would have to field its players against its Dutch opponents in alphabetical order meaning that neither Bernadette Szocs nor Elizabeta Samara were available for selection – Romania subsequently fell to a 3-1 defeat.
With no more room for error, Romania then pulled off a remarkable finish to the group with Elizabeta Samara’s five game thriller against Cheng I-Ching (4-11, 15-17, 11-7, 11-8, 11-4) helping the sixth seeds to a stunning 3-0 triumph over Chinese Taipei before a successful outing against DPR Korea completed Romania’s group stage comeback.
However, surely it was Ukraine who stole the show in the division: eliminating 10th seeds Hungary in the concluding round of Group B, Ukraine went on to pull off one of the upsets of the tournament by halting 2010 World champions Singapore’s progress.
Unified Korea Team Formed And Host Nation Joy
Not only did the Liebherr 2018 World Team Championships provide a platform for exhilarating action but also hosted a historically significant event with the formation of a Unified Korea table tennis team for the first time since 1991.
Korea Republic and DPR Korea were set to meet at the quarter-finals of the Women’s Championship Division on the morning of Thursday 3rd May, but in an amazing turn of events the two sides decided against playing one another and instead it was announced that a Unified Korea team would be formed. The line-up of Jeon Jihee, Kim Song I and Yang Haeun performed valiantly in their 3-0 defeat by Japan but, despite the result, the team secured a bronze medal finish.
Speaking of podium finishes, there were scenes of celebration for the home crowd at the Halmstad Arena as Sweden successfully earned a bronze medal for the first time in 14 years.
Holding off a brave Chinese Taipei comeback attempt, the host nation stormed to a fantastic 3-0 victory against England at the quarter-finals stage to seal Sweden’s place in the last four where its run was ended by China.
The other tie in the Men’s Championship Division semi-finals was slightly more dramatic with top seeds Germany prevailing over Korea Republic in a full distance encounter, featuring a brace of wins from a not fully fit Timo Boll.
Champions Again, China Extends Title Records
Heading into the World Team Championships China had one aim – to defend both of its titles – a feat which was ultimately achieved.
Despite a difficult start for Liu Shiwen, who lost out to Mima Ito across five games (9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 8-11, 10-12) China was rarely troubled by opponents Japan in the Women’s Championship Division final. Comfortable victories for Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling against Miu Hirano (11-6, 12-10, 13-11) and Kasumi Ishikawa (11-4, 11-7, 11-8) put the top seeds ahead for the first time before Liu Shiwen added a win over Miu Hirano (11-6, 11-6, 12-10) to end the contest.
China has now won the Women’s Team trophy for the 21st time, a record which was matched in the Men’s Team event. Facing Germany in the final, China raced into a commanding lead through Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, who accounted for Timo Boll (11-4, 11-8, 11-3) and Ruwen Filus (11-4, 11-5, 11-4). Xu Xin then put the team over the finish line, recovering from a game down to beat Patrick Franziska (9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-5).
With China continuing to break records, a formation of a Unified Korea team and terrific outings from the likes of Sweden and Ukraine it’s fair to say that spectators in Halmstad experienced eight days of sporting magic and one of the finest table tennis events in recent history.