It seems like only yesterday we were in Leuven, Belgium watching Denmark cruise to yet another European Mixed Team Championship victory. Two years have passed so quickly but even with the passage of time some things do not seem to change. Once again its Denmark that travel to Poland as the overwhelming favourites to lift the title and it is up to the other 11 elite teams to challenge them.
In the 22 editions of the championships, through various guises and formats changes, the Danes have won 16 times. While the statistic certainly offers some light at the end of the tunnel for the rest of Europe the reality of the situation is that the majority of those loses came in the early days of the competition when England & Sweden were the teams to beat.
Since 1996 Denmark have been virtually unbeatable, that was until 2013 of course, when a strong and determined Juliane Schenk led German team dethroned the dominant Danes. That occasion in Ramenskoe the Germans were better and wanted it more but that Danish defeat only served to galvanise the Danish set up and they now come to these events with even more focus. It is now almost impossible to catch Team Denmark in complacent mood making the rest of Europe’s job even more difficult.
The 2015 edition in Belgium saw the introduction of a top 12 competition after a series of qualification tournaments around Europe. The format has proved to be a big hit with the qualification process allowing the smaller European nations battle it out for a coveted top 12 spot.
Off the 12 qualifiers in 2015, 10 have regained their spot for next week’s competition with Bulgaria and Switzerland replacing Scotland and Belgium as the two newest qualifiers.
Four groups with four seeds and some possible upsets on the cards
The big hitters Denmark, England, Germany and Russia head up the four qualification groups in Lubin. France as one of Europe’s most rapidly developing badminton nations find themselves in group 1 alongside Denmark and will fancy themselves to cause some trouble for the champions.
Leverdez travels for France and when Brice pulls on the national jersey anything can happen. It is not so long ago the Frenchman took down Jan O Jorgensen in a European team event and on his day can inject that special something into the veins of his compatriots spurring them onto greatness.
Lurking in group 1 are the newbies from Bulgaria. Very much a team of two halves, there women can trouble anyone as we saw in their run to silver at the European women’s team event. The Stoeva’s, Mitsova & Nedelcheva will lead the Bulgarian lines and the ladies will hope the men can support with some vital points.
That being said the official travelling Danish party of Axelsen, Antonsen, Boe, Mogensen, Fischer, Christiansen, Kjaersfeldt, Koch Rohde, Pedersen & Rytter Juhl (above) and Thygesen remain the hot favourites as is their right.
When you think of the quality Denmark leave behind, players such as Jorgensen, Vittinghus, Conrad, Kolding, Astrup, Skarrup Rasmussen and new Danish women's singles champion Mette Poulsen the strength in depth of the Danes become all too apparent.
England without Ouseph head up group 2
Team England travel to Poland without their spiritual leader Rajiv Ouseph. Ouseph has always led from the front for his country and this coming week there is no doubt that he will be missed. Of course the English have the experience of players like the Adcock’s, Lauren Smith and Langridge and Ellis but this might be Toby Penty’s (pictured above) time to shine.
The Englishman recently showed remarkable composure to come back and win his first circuit title after losing a final when holding match point just 6 days previous. Penty has come of age and like Ouseph the England jersey brings out the best in him.
Nestled in the group along with England are Sweden and Ireland with the Swedes likely to have the most depth to trouble the English. Sweden will have cause to worry about the recent form of a stuttering Henri Hurskainen but in the doubles events the Swedes will feel they have a fighting chance against the English, if only Hurskainen can pull one out of the fire in men’s singles.
Like Ouseph, Ireland have the ultimate on court leader in Scott Evans. Evans ranking has fallen of late but that is no indication of the threat of the Irishman. Evans, as always, led from the front in the qualification campaign and once again Ireland will look to an early men’s singles point. Recent national success for Chloe Magee in women’s double might just signal a change in tactic for team Ireland and as always the Magee’s in doubles and mixed will have to deliver points if Ireland are to progress to match their 5th spot from two years ago.
German young guns ones to watch
Team German have had a literal personnel transplant since their victory in 2013. It is essentially out with the old and in with the new for team Germany and they may be ones to watch this week. Fabian Roth has been the star of German badminton this season. Circuit dominance and a victory over Marc Zwiebler at the nationals means the German’s will be looking to a shoe-in point in men’s singles. It’s just a pity there is only one men’s singles point on offer per match from a German point of view.
Lamsfuss has come of age this past year and with Beck, Zurwonne, Siedel and Kaesbauer in the line-up there are guaranteed doubles points also for the taking. The German girls will rely heavily on Nelte, Goliszewski, Herttrich and Efler but Germany can now look to Luise Heim (pictured above), as the new National champion, to pick up some points along the way in women's singles. All of a sudden things are looking up for team Germany.
The Germans have Switzerland and The Netherlands in their group and on paper should have the depth across all five disciplines to see of the Dutch into second place in the group.
Doubles power to see Russians through
Team Russian are the seeded team in the final round robin group. The Russians certainly give a lot of bang for your buck in the doubles disciplines but will need big performances from their singles players to push them towards the podium. This is just a harrowing reality for the Russians who will rely on Ivanov and Sozonov to lead by example. Who knows we might even see one of the dynamic duo being forced into singles which might be needed from a Russian perspective.
The Russians do have the young pair of Davletova and Alimov in their ranks and with other established pairs such as Chervyakova/Morozova as well as the flexibility of Bolotova the strength of the Russians start to emerge from the gloom. The big question is can Malkov, Sirant, Perminova and Kosetskaya deliver in the singles. The answer is one of the four will need to step up to the plate if Russia are to trouble the Danes.
Hosts Poland and Spain will be subconsciously rubbing their hands with Spain in particular virtually guaranteed some points from their heavy hitting females. You may not have noticed but Spain now have the top two ranked European women’s singles in the world and if Marin & Corrales can swap their singles brain for the doubles variety at the crucial time in any given match they can win.
Fittingly we should end our preview with mention of the host nation and the host organisers. The Polish team as always will be strong across the doubles events. Cwalina will put the fear of god into most opposition and are there many going to beat Mateusiak and Zieba (pictured above)in a European mixed doubles match? I think not.
It’s the singles where the Poles will have to pull something out of the fire and it would be a fitting tribute to the host organisers to have their home nation in the knockout stages of the competition. The amazing RCS arena will host the event as it did the European U19’s and U17’s. An amazing arena backed by an amazing organising committee who have been strong supporters of European badminton this past number of years.
Badminton Europe will be on hand streaming all the action from all the sessions via our broadcast partners www.laola1.tv
with all the action starting at 10am on Wednesday 15th February with France V Bulgaria and Ireland V Sweden.
To view day 1 live streaming from court 1 & 2 click here HERE
To view the draws and schedule for the #EMTC17 click HERE
Article and images by Mark Phelan for Badminton Europe
Please Note: There may be some localised geo-blocking of live stream in some territories