by Simon Daish
Experiencing a 3-2 defeat on home soil earlier in the year but there was revenge for Portugal in the penultimate round of qualifying as opponents Austria succumbed to a first loss of the campaign.
Sofia Polcanova established an early advantage for the Austrian team in Ebensee with a straight games win over Celia Silva (11-6, 11-4, 11-3) but back-to-back successes for Shao Jieni and Leila Oliveira against Sophia Kellermann (11-4, 11-3, 11-1) and Karoline Mischek (11-8, 11-5, 11-5) handed Portugal the lead. Shao Jieni edged the final contest of the match, beating Sofia Polcanova by the narrowest of margins (6-11, 11-8, 11-3, 2-11, 12-10).
Top spot in the group, and thus automatic qualification to the main event, will be Portugal’s if they avoid defeat at the hands of winless Switzerland next time out.
Poland extended its unbeaten run in the race to Nantes 2019 after successfully defeating Ukraine 3-1 in Poznan. Starring for the home team was Natalia Bajor, claiming positive outcomes against Anastasiya Dymytrenko (8-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-4) and Veronika Hud (11-6, 11-7, 11-3) in the opening and closing fixtures of the contest while Natalia Partyka needed just three games to see off Solomiya Brateyko (11-9, 12-10, 11-6).
Defeated in all three of their qualification fixtures but at the fourth attempt Russia came away with its first win, beating Sweden in convincing style: Mariia Tailakova put the hosts in front with a straight games victory over Filippa Bergand (11-7, 11-2, 11-6) before Valeria Shcherbatykh and Yana Noskova negotiated fixtures against Christina Källberg (11-9, 11-5, 13-11) and Jennifer Jonsson (11-2, 11-5, 11-5) to seal the points.
Germany earned its fourth consecutive win of the campaign following a powerful 3-0 showing at home to Luxembourg while Hungary and the Netherlands prevailed in their encounters with the Czech Republic and Croatia respectively.
In Group B, Barbora Balazova led by example for the Slovak Republic, who chalked up a 3-1 away victory against Belgium. Turkey and Lithuania meanwhile both required the full match distance, seeing off Denmark and Israel by 3-2 score-lines with England and Serbia proving too strong for Greece and Bulgaria.
The teams finishing in first and second positions in each of the six groups of Group A will qualify directly to the 2019 ITTF-European Team Championships. Teams finishing in third position in Group A will move through to Stage 2 of qualifying along with the successful teams from Group B.