Germany's day in Luxembourg on semi-final day, but it was far from easy!Photo: Rémy Gros
Day 4 at the LIEBHERR 2017 ITTF European Championships produced thrilling action and intriguing results. Three of the four semi-finals today went the distance, the other was a clear affair.
Holders Germany moved into the Women's final with a hard fought 3-2 victory against the Netherlands, but did it the hard way trialling 0-1 and 1-2, before getting over the line.
It was Dutch team, which was only ranked third in their Group, who had the better start. LI Jie, (European number 3) needed four games to overcome SHAN Xiaona (European number 2) 3-1 (11:13, 11:8, 15:13, 11:8), but it did not took long before the champions struck back. HAN Ying responded fiercely beating Britt EERLAND (2:11, 3:11, 5:11).
Kim VERMAAS, 21 years old, gave Netherlands another chance. She overcame Germany's youngster, 20 years old Nina MITTELHAM (11:7,7:11, 6:11, 11:7, 11:9) to give the Netherlands a 2:1 lead.
The crucial match was the one between LI Jie and HAN Ying. HAN Ying failed to convert opportunities in the two opening games and she was 0:2 down before she rebuilt her challenge to succeed 3-2 (13:11, 12:10, 7:11, 11:6, 11:6) to level the match at 2-2.
The decisive fifth match was won by SHAN Xiaona who overcame Britt EERLAND 3-1 (6:11, 5:11, 11:3, 9:11) to seal the match and take Germany into tomorrow's final.
This is Germany's chance to win the Women's Team for a third successive time.
"I did not expect such a close game against Netherlands. I knew we will need a lot of patience, but to be honest I thought they would not put us under such pressure. However, against Britt I did not have any problems. She is not very comfortable with my defensive style of play," said HAN Ying.
"I was too passive at the beginning. I made same mistakes in the match against Britt EERLAND in the third game like I did against LI, but luckily I recovered fast with aggressive approach," said match winner SHAN Xiaona.
With some tears in her eyes, Britt EERLAND found the strength to look at the defeat from a positive angle, "I am sad, we were very close. We came a long way, by making the upset and beating Czech Republic in our group for the place in the top 8. I also avenged my Olympic Games defeat in the match against Austria and after 2011 we are at the medal rostrum again; it is wonderful result for such young team," said Britt.
In the other semi-final, Romania were in superb form on their quest for gold, and like 2015 in Ekaterinburg and in 2013 in Schwechat they will meet Germany. In both previous occasions, as well as in 2011 and 2010 against Netherlands the team was halted at the ultimate hurdle.
"We want that gold again. We won so many silver medals, now it is time for the title. It is going to be an open match against Germany. It will be all about tactics and the right team draw, but I believe we can make it," said Elizabeta SAMARA.
They reached the final after an impressive straight match victory over Russia, although it did not start that well. Elizabeta SAMARA, currently ranked no. 7 in Europe, was stretched to the limit in the opening match against Yana NOSKOVA, Europe's no. 39 (11:9, 6:11, 1:11, 11:8, 11:7).
"We played together for four years in the same club. Russia's national coach was my coach in the same club. If you look to the picture from that perspective, it says much. There was no way I can prepare some special tactics, my ultimate advantage was my mental strength." explained SAMARA.
Daniela MONTEIRO DODEAN concluded her match in furious style. Polina MIKHAILOVA was always behind, and MONTEIRO DODEAN came through 3-0 (11:6, 11:7,11:9).
"I have to admit I was afraid of this match. Polina played in superb shape here in Luxembourg. On the other side, I am not very happy when I have to play against the player with defensive style. She is not entirely defensive player, she is also good with attack, but nevertheless I study her game very well, because I knew it is not going to be easy," said Daniela.
Bernadette SZOCS overcame Olga VOROBEVA 3:1 (15:17, 13:11, 11:7, 11:5) to secure the semi-final victory comfortably 3-0.
"It is good for the team spirit and self confidence that we all won point each. I am so happy that I contributed," said SZOCS.
Polina was clearly disappointed, "Today was not our day because we played less well than expected and also anticipated a better result than 3-0. We haven't played the Romanian team for a number of years and we have never beaten them but we are aware that a bronze medal is the lowest objective we wanted to achieve here as a Russian national team. Some matches and games today were really close, but I cannot say that I or the others did anything wrong or that we lacked the mental strength to turn around games or matches when we were 2-1 up, plus a lead in the 4th game. On some days you win such matches and on others you don't."
In the Men's first semi-final, it was Champions from Lisbon 2015, team of Portugal who booked their place in the final in Luxembourg. The drama that preceded this victory delivered the very best of table tennis to the spectators in the d'Coque. France, the team with three titles so far, has to settle with the bronze medal this time.
It was Tiago APOLONIA who started the ball rolling overcoming Simon GAUZY in a surprisingly 3-0 victory (11:4, 11:4, 11:8).
"Maybe it looked easy but it was far from that. I played very good and maybe that made an illusion it was an easy match," said APOLONIA. "There are no easy matches at this Championships. All the adversaries are very dangerous. I guess that every team from the top went through heavy challenges. The team of Germany is the only real favourite here."
Marcos FREITAS put Portugal in the driving seat with the 3:1 win over European singles champion from Budapest last year, Emmanuel LEBESSON (2:11, 8:11, 11:9, 9:11), but the pendulum swung in the next match. Quentin ROBINOT beat Joao MONTEIRO (11:9, 11:1, 9:11, 7:11, 11:9). After 2:0 for ROBINOT, MONETEIRO recovered, but he could not kept the momentum alive.
"It was very close game. He had 7:2 in the opening game, and who knows what could happened if he won. In this kind of matches one or two balls decide everything" said FREITAS.
In the fourth game instead of GAUZY, Tristan FLORE entered the arena to play against Marcos FREITAS. Earlier this year at the World Championships in Dusseldorf FLORE played against FREITAS, came back from 3:0 to level the match, but lost by the narrowest of margins 12:10 in the seventh game. This time he prevailed in straight games (12:10, 11:8, 11:9).
In the last match APOLONIA was back in action and once again he succeeded. This time against LEBESSON in a thrilling encounter 3-2 (11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 7-11, 6-11).
"I can only repeat that I played good. They were on fire and I was under great pressure," explained APOLONIA.
So Portugal through to contend Sunday's Men's Team Final.
And so to the last match of the evening. Giant killers Slovenia taking on favourites Germany. Many predicted an easy win for the German team who have been in great form.
The match commenced with surprising defeat of Dimitrij OVTCHAROV, who may not have been at full strength, but still European number 1 and World number 4. The player who created the upset was young Darko JORGIC (11:13, 6:11, 11:6, 8:11), a player who is ranked 160 places below his German opponent at 164.
Timo BOLL on the other hand was at the top of his game. He was lethally accurate and he showed no mercy against Bojan TOKIC winning comfortably 3-0 (11:5, 11:7, 11:4). "I am very satisfied with my game. I was confident and I moved very well," reflected BOLL.
Patrick FRANZISKA was next in line against Jan ZIBRAT. He prevailed in straight games 3-0 (11:3, 11:6, 11:8). "ZIBRAT and I played at the European Youth Championship a few years ago together. He was my doubles partner. I was very focused and prepared for this duel," said Patrick.
Despite the enormous task and recent track record, experienced TOKIC showed great spirit against Ruwen FILUS. At 2:1 for Germany, he pushed to level at 2-2 and succeeded keeping his patience to overcame defensive skills of Ruwen FILUS (11:8, 13:15, 10:12, 8:11). "I was not happy with the prospect of fifth match, but I was ready. You cannot deny the great game that Slovenia showed at this Championships."
To conclude proceedings was an intriguing match. Could Darko JORGIC continue his run against legend Timo BOLL. In short, no. BOLL was fit, strong and solid winning 3-0 to allow everyone associated with the German team to breathe a sigh of relief.
And so the final against Portugal. "Now we are complete. Nevertheless, Portugal's team is very dangerous. It is hard to play against them, because they are very motivated. They are in fire. It is the only team beside China who beat us in this system of play," concluded BOLL.
Germany will meet Portugal, tomorrow in the final of the Men's Teams Event at the LIEBHERR ITTF European Championships. It will be their second encounter in the final of the Continental Championships. Previously, in 2014 they lost their title in Lisbon. Let's see what tomorrow will bring.
Can Germany win both titles. It falls to Romania and Portugal to change the script.
Women's Team Final: Germany versus Romania at 14:00
Men's Team Final: Germany versus Portugal at 17:00
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