by Simon Daish
A 3-1 victory over Luxembourg in the opening round of group phase action handed England a fighting chance of qualifying from Group 6, but a mighty test was still to come with Belarus also in contention.
In a winner takes all affair, it was England that established the early advantage against their Belarusian counterparts through Liam Pitchford. He led by example with a four games win over Pavel Platonov (11-4, 11-6, 8-11, 11-7). However, it didn’t take long for Belarus to level the score at 1-1 as the legendary Vladimir Samsonov showed little sympathy for Paul Drinkhall (11-7, 11-9, 11-7).
With the match hanging in the balance, the third fixture carried added importance for both sides with the flow of momentum being affected significantly. A young man fully capable of producing big wins under high pressure conditions, Sam Walker restored his country’s lead with a 3-1 victory at the expense of Aliaksandr Khanin (11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-5) to move England to within touching distance of the quarter-finals.
Up against the ropes at 2-1 down, Belarus needed its talisman Vladimir Samsonov more than ever. But, it was not to be as the former World Championships finalist succumbed to a four games defeat at the hands of Liam Pitchford (10-12, 11-9, 12-10, 11-8). The match was over and after a gruelling session, it was England’s day!
“It is always nice to beat a legend. It was really difficult. All the games were very close. I didn’t let him control the match and I was very fast in the rallies. We were very well prepared. The third match involving Sam Walker was very important. He had to win that one! Coming to the table at 2-1 for me was obviously a much better position then it was for Samsonov.” Liam Pitchford
What makes this England team so dangerous? Over the past few years England has firmly established itself amongst the world elite in team competition following tremendous bronze medal winning campaigns at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur and the 2018 ITTF Team World Cup on home soil in London.
Perhaps it’s the impressive balance found throughout the team: not only does the team boast a World top 30 player in Liam Pitchford, but also two well versed fighters in Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker along with the exciting young talent of Tom Jarvis. Then there’s the great heart and togetherness the squad possesses, traits which have helped dig them out of dangerous positions on multiple occasions. The belief and courage really does shine through for all to see, making them formidable opposition for whoever stands in their way.
Awaiting England in the quarter-finals is a fierce challenge in the form of Sweden – the last head-to-head at 2018 World Team Championships Sweden secured a convincing 3-0 quarter-final victory in Halmstad. However, plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since then and the Swedish team aren’t taking anything for granted in Nantes with both Mattias Falck and Kristian Karlsson anticipating a close contest:
“Our next one will be against England and they are a really strong team.” Mattias Falck
“I am looking forward to our match against England. They are our friends and I am sure it will be good match to watch.” Kristian Karlsson
Will it be another victory for Sweden to celebrate or can England strike another magical team performance to stun the second seeds?