by Kabir Nagpal
Not so much as the underdogs, but more of as the bookies suggestions to possibly miss out, Germany and Romania were winners of more than just gold medals.
After five days of exciting action at the d’Coque Arena in Luxembourg the 2017 ITTF European Championships saw two returning champions in both the men’s and women’s team events.
Back to the European throne
Germany’s long wait to lift the men’s championship division trophy finally came to an end following a powerful display against fellow finalists Portugal in the gold medal match.
After having previously succeeded in the 2013 edition of the tournament, the Germans had been unable to make the final step of the journey in recent years. They ended with runner up finishes at the 2014 and 2015 competitions to Portugal and Austria respectively.
However, these disappointments seemed to have laid the foundation of the determination needed to succeed at the 2017 event in Luxembourg with the top seeds finally turning up in the right state of mind. In what was perhaps the most important battle in the final, Timo Boll and Marcos Freitas went head-to-head as both competitors produced strong performances in a thrilling five games encounter.
Despite Freitas holding an advantage after three games, Boll responded in style emerging victorious in the next two to earn Germany the first point on the scoreboard (9-11, 11-7, 13-15, 11-5, 12-10).
Dimitrij Ovtcharov kept the momentum going by beating Tiago Apolonia, showing off some of his best table tennis to defeat the Portuguese representative without dropping a game (11-6, 11-7, 11-9). Finally, it was Patrick Franziska who completed the job with a fine effort against João Monteiro (10-12, 11-6, 11-9, 11-5).
12 years a wait for Romania
In the women’s team final, Romania managed to turn back time and secure the top step on the podium for the first time in 12 years after the team of Elizabeta Samara, Daniela Monteiro Dodean and Bernadette Szocs defied the odds to claim a dramatic 3-2 victory over top seeds Germany.
Unlike their male compatriots, Germany’s women were unable to record gold as it was a day for history to be written by the Romanians, with a pinch of revenge as well. After losing out to the same opponents in the final of the 2015 European Championships, it was a moment of pure joy when the final score read in the favour of Team Romania.
Elizabeta Samara played an important role in Romania’s journey throughout the course of the event, and she looked at her best at the start of the title match claiming a powerful win over Han Ying (9-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-8, 11-7) in the opening encounter.
“It was a fantastic match, very difficult. We expected that, there was no surprise in that department. I was prepared for the long rallies against Han Ying” Elizabeta Samara.
The German team looked for a response which arrived immediately as Shan Xiaona stepped up to beat Daniela Monteiro Dodean in straight games (6-11, 6-11, 11-7). The third fixture saw Nina Mittelham take on Bernadette Szocs, as Mittelham kept pushing for a win throughout their battle. It was, however, the Romanian that came through the tie winning 3-1 (11-5, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6) and leaving Germany trailing once again.
Shan Xiaona kept the title defence alive for Germany with another strong showing in her second match, defeating Elizabeta Samara (11-8, 11-9, 15-17, 11-3) to force a decider. It all came down to Han Ying and Daniela Monteiro Dodean, both of whom had lost their first battles in the final. Dodean was in no mood to stick to that statistic, as she raced into a commanding 2-0 lead, moving Romania to within a single game win from the title.
Han Ying fought back to cut her lead in half, a fantastic effort saw Dodean recover in time to claim four points in a row to seal her team’s victory (11-4, 11-8, 4-11, 12-10) and give Romania the gold medal for the first time since 2005.