by Simon Daish
The line-up of Kristian Karlsson, Mattias Falck and Jon Persson gave the home fans plenty to cheer about in Söderhamn earning victories over Jesus Cantero (11-6, 11-4, 15-13), Alvaro Robles (11-5, 6-11, 11-9, 11-9) and Carlos Machado (11-8, 11-8, 11-7) to guarantee top spot in the group.
In March of this year Greece held a commanding lead in the Russian capital of Moscow only to end up on the wrong side of a 3-2 outcome. Eight months later the Greek team put the disappointment of that day behind them with a convincing display in Piraeus.
Victories for Panagiotis Gionis and Ioannis Sgouropoulos got the ball rolling for Greece with strong outings against Denis Ivonin (11-8, 11-7, 11-7) and Sadi Ismalov (4-11, 10-12, 11-4, 11-3, 12-10) – the match was brought to a close by Konstantinos Konstantinopoulos following his straight games win over Maksim Grebnev (11-5, 11-4, 11-9).
Proving unstoppable throughout the course of qualification, Slovenia capped off a perfect campaign with an impressive 3-0 win over Romania: Darko Jorgic emerged successful in the opening contest of the match against Cristian Pletea (14-12, 11-6, 6-11, 11-6) before Deni Kozul and Jan Zibrat completed the job, beating Ovidiu Ionescu (11-8, 11-8, 11-9) and Hunor Szocs (8-11, 7-11, 11-9, 14-12, 11-5) respectively.
Portugal suffered a 3-1 defeat at home to Austria but have qualified regardless thanks to Marcos Freitas’ four games win against Stefan Fegerl (11-9, 11-7, 9-11, 11-7). Poland put on a strong display to beat Croatia by a 3-0 score-line and Ukraine produced a similar result against the Slovak Republic, prevailing for the first time in their qualification group.
Over in Group B there was a thrilling duel in Helsinki with victories from Samuli Soine, Benedek Olah and Miikka O’Connor guiding Finland to a 3-2 win against Switzerland.
Elsewhere, San Marino produced a terrific away performance to beat Azerbaijan in Baku and Serbia completed the double over England with a 3-1 victory in Gillingham. Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Norway and Lithuania all earned home wins.
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 successful teams from Group B in qualification Stage 2.