29 May 2020

Argentina is home to some of the world’s biggest sporting stars including one of the finest footballers to grace the planet in Lionel Messi.

The country’s table tennis journey may still in the developing stages but promising noises are starting to emerge especially on the men’s side. From Liu Song to Horacio Cifuentes to Francisco Sanchi and Santiago Lorenzo – this is the story of Argentina’s rise to prominence.

by Simon Daish

Liu Song the inspirational spark

Born in Guangxi, China, Liu Song, a former member of the Chinese junior team, moved to Argentina in 1995 where he would go on to become the leading light in the country’s table tennis set up.

Left-handed and a man who was able to find a balance of attack and defence, it didn’t take long for Liu Song to make an impact in his new surroundings, striking men’s singles gold at the 1998 Latin American Championships. Liu would go on to enjoy further success at later editions of the event, adding more titles to his name in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2010. A key member of the Argentine side that took home men’s team gold at the 2006 Latin American Championships, Liu also collected singles gold medals at the 2006 and 2011 Latin American Games.

Leading Argentina to numerous successes at continental level, Liu put the country’s table tennis ambitions on the map and has more than earned his place in the sport’s history.

Liu Song’s move to Argentina has resulted in great things for the country’s table tennis ambitions (Photo: John Oros)
Great teamwork

Fellow members of the squad that emerged as men’s team champions at the Latin American Championships in 2006, Pablo Tabachnik and Gaston Alto have since gone on to enjoy success.

On the doubles front Tabachnik and Liu proved a most useful pairing, landing continental titles in 2004, 2005 and 2008 while Alto and Liu struck victory in 2011. Tabachnik and Alto also made for a formidable partnership, claiming gold at the 2014 and 2016 editions of the Latin American Championships. The duo also finished as runners up at the 2016 ITTF World Tour event in Santiago.

Tabachnik and Alto just one example of Argentina’s doubles prowess (Photo: Ariel Popiolek)

Another more recent example of Argentina’s doubles prowess came last year at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Polish Open. Alto joined forces with young up-and-coming star Horacio Cifuentes to win the men’s doubles title in Wladyslawowo – showing he is a more than capable doubles player already, it is in Cifuentes that Argentina is placing its hopes on for the years ahead.

Horacio Cifuentes the real deal?

Considered a big emerging prospect, Horacio Cifuentes is gaining more and more attention for the right reasons with each passing year and already boasts a notable record.

Making an early impact with his silver medal finish in the under 21 competition at the Chile Open in 2015, Cifuentes has since gone on to reach the top step of the medals podium on two occasions with perfect outings at the 2017 Chile and 2019 Spanish and 2019 Paraguay Opens.

Cifuentes has also impressed on the senior stage, reaching the men’s singles semi-finals at the ITTF Challenge Series event in Asuncion last year and one year earlier he took home silver at the 2018 ITTF Pan American Championships. However, Cifuentes isn’t the only young star making headlines in Argentina.

Bright future ahead

Very much a contemporary of Cifuentes, Martin Bentancor is also displaying great promise on the international scene, taking the under 21 men’s singles runner up prize at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus North American Open in Markham and breaking into the category world top 10!

Martin Bentancor continues to make great strides (Photo: courtesy of North American Open)

There’s also great hope surrounding the futures of Francisco Sanchi and Santiago Lorenzo: Notably on the 2017 ITTF World Junior Circuit, Sanchi was the junior boys’ singles runner up in Asuncion, Paraguay and Platja d’Aro while Lorenzo enjoyed a title-winning campaign in Santiago.

Onward and upwards

Much water has flown under the bridge since Liu Song decided to make the brave move from his birthplace in China to Argentina in 1995 and whether it be the country’s knack for doubles success or the promising signs coming from the Under 21 and below scene, Argentina appears to be heading in the right direction.

The future may be difficult to predict but the signs coming from the South American country are most encouraging!

Features Horacio Cifuentes Gaston Alto Martin Bentancor Francisco Sanchi Santiago Lorenzo Pablo Tabachnik Liu Song