by Simon Daish
Portugal earned their spot in the quarter-finals off the back of a strong group phase showing, beating Croatia 3-1 and Russia 3-2 to top Group no.7.
Enjoying a very impressive start to the proceedings in Nantes but the challenge was about to become much more difficult with seven-time champions Germany awaiting the Portuguese team in the lower half of the draw. The second seeds decided to field four players for the match, all of whom carry plenty of threat, however, with the odds stacked up against them it was Portugal’s day to remember.
Looking to make the best possible start Germany fielded the highly reliable Han Ying in the match opener and she didn’t disappoint, dropping just the one game to Shao Jieni (11-8, 15-13, 11-13, 11-5). However, Portugal responded straight away through Fu Yu, who negotiated a full distance thriller against Petrissa Solja (10-12, 11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 11-5) to level the match at 1-1.
Momentum shifted in Germany’s favour once again as Shan Xiaona brushed aside Rita Fins in straight games (11-3, 11-2, 11-5), but Fu Yu’s second success of the afternoon, at the expense of Nina Mittelham (4-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-8), took the match into a deciding fifth contest.
With the score sitting at 2-2, Petrissa Solja’s battle with Shao Jieni was, quite simply, a win or bust affair; it was the German star who looked set to succeed after racing into a two games lead. However, Solja couldn’t capitalise on the situation as Shao won three games in a row to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (9-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-2, 11-6) to hand Portugal a 3-2 win and a spot in the last four.
“Before the match I was really nervous because Germany has a really good and dangerous team, so because of that I played slowly in the beginning of the match. But, when I was down to 0-2 I knew I had to concentrate more, play harder and put more speed into the match.” Shao Jieni
A momentous occasion for Portugal, who move another step closer in their chase for a first women’s team title at the European Championships. Shao Jieni’s performance in particular will come as encouraging news for the team – we all know the quality Fu Yu possesses, she did secure women’s singles gold at the 2019 European Games after all. However, Shao’s comeback display against one of the continent’s most prestigious players in Petrissa Solja shows that Portugal have the necessary strength in depth to be considered as worthy challengers in Nantes.
There will be little time for celebration with Team Portugal’s attention shifting to their all-important semi-final meeting with Hungary. Third seeds Hungary survived a stern comeback test from Ukraine in their quarter-final encounter and we can expect a close head-to-head contest with Portugal when the two countries meet at 1.00pm local time on Saturday 7th September.