The missing piece in Danish team puzzle
Date: 2/4/2015 11:14 AM
Published by : Manuel Røsler
Next week’s 2015 European Mixed Team Championships in Leuven will gather together the cream of Europe’s badminton talent in a newly revamped competition that see Europe’s top 12 teams battle it out for the crown of best overall team in Europe.

With the 2015 edition imminent it is impossible to move forward without casting our minds back to Russia two years ago where Germany upset the odds and lifted the trophy with an inspired Juliane Schenk led mauling of the favourites Denmark.

The Germans success at the time meant that Denmark, for the first time in recent history, were second to Germany holding only 1 of the 4 big team event titles. The German lifted the 2011 Euro Junior Championships title and followed that up with the European Women’s event in Amsterdam in 2012 and along with the 2013 European Mixed Team Championships success on Russian soil in 2013 left Denmark with only the European men’s team title.

Since 2014 Denmark have recaptured the European Junior team title in Ankara 2013 and followed that up with a dominant display retaining the men’s title in Basel 2014 but more importantly claiming back the women’s team trophy to redress the balance. The Danes will without doubt be looking to go full circle and regain the mixed team title in Leuven and on paper will be red hot favourites to do so.

A new format with new opportunities

With four groups of three teams and the top two from each group to advance to the quarter finals, there is a lot to play for in Leuven. Belgium and Germany automatically qualified as host and holders while Denmark, Russia and England joined them as the top three ranked in Europe at the time of the draw.

7 other teams have already gone through the qualification process which proved a huge success in early November 2014 with all 7 having real ambitions on at least a quarter final spot.

Group 1 has already been labelled as the group of death and with Denmark hot favourites to top the group the battle will be between The Netherlands and Poland for the runners up spot. The Poles will have their customary strength in men’s and mixed doubles but a lack of experience in singles might prove their undoing.

The Dutch will have a high quality balanced team making the short trip to Belgium and with Pang and DeVisch Eijbergan supporting their doubles pairings should have enough to accompany the Danes to the knock out stages.

Group 2 is an open book with England as the seeded team. The Adcocks and doubles pairings will be heavily relied on in Leuven to take the English to the quarter finals. Ireland and Belgium will feel they both have not only chance to get to the quarter finals but also an outside chance of taking down the seeded English.

For this to happen the stars will all certainly need to be aligned but a fit again Chloe Magee along with Sam Magee in doubles and the man of 2014 Scott Evans will all feel they can deliver three match wins for the Irish. Belgium, buoyed by home support and home court, will rely on the Tan siblings to get them out of the blocks quickly but ultimately might come unstuck in doubles.

Group 3 has defending champions Germany as the seeded nation. The Germans will however be taken right to the wire even at such an early stage. A lot has changed in Germany since their 2013 victory and with Germany having to travel to Belgium without Marc Zwiebler, who sustained an injury in the German nationals last week, the outlook for this German team is realistically bleak. National women’s singles champion Olga Konon has also be cast adrift from the German set up and Scotland and Spain are in the position to capitalise in women’s singles particularly.

Scotland equal Germany with squad depth and if Blair, Gilmour, Van Rietvelde and a well-rested Imogen Bankier fire on all cylinders the Scots have realistic ambitions of topping the group.

Even with world champion Carolina Marin on board it will take a big effort for Spain to make the quarters. A team that has traditional been lob sided from a female perspective has a better chance this year with some developing male talent starting to find their international feet.

Group 4 will likely see a shoot-out between Russia and France for the top spot. The French have this constant ability to nurture young talent and mix them with the more experienced players such as Leverdez, Labar and Careme.

The Russians will look to European Champions Sozonov and Ivanov to lead the line and in Bolotova have a player that can comfortably mingle at the top level in doubles and mixed.

Sweden who were lucky to even make the finals when taken to the last match in the qualification group against Estonia, will struggle to make an impact. Top singles player Henri Hurskainen is only returning from injury and after a disappointing display at their home international when not one Swedish player made the quarter finals Team Sweden look to be struggling ahead of the tournament.

Click here for the #EMTC groups overview

No room for early group complacency

A premium will be placed on achieving the highest possible level of play from the very first shuttle as there is no room for complacency in the revised group system. Any small slip up can mean losing a group or ultimately not qualifying for the quarter finals.

The four group winners will avoid each other in the quarter finals with the four runners up being drawn openly to play one of these four group winners. An additional twist is that two teams progressing from the same group cannot be placed on same side of the knock out stages draw. This all means there is a high priority on winning the group and being ready from the absolute beginning of the tournament with your strongest team.

This new system will certainly test the resolve of Danish selectors as they ask themselves can they afford to operate their traditional two tier competition system whereby they play top level but ultimately second string players in the group safe in the knowledge they will do the job anyway. The reality is they probably can but one thing is for sure any misjudgement can and will be punished and team Denmark will be in a defiant mood as they bid to reclaim a full complement of the major European team events and they are of course the overwhelming favourites to do so.

If you are looking for an each way option, Scotland look like a nation that have the ability to cause a few surprises along the way and if they can top their group there is a realistic shot at a minimum semi-final. The Dutch too have settled after a turbulent few years and if Eric Pang can find his world championship form they too will be knocking on the door for a medal with a host of top class doubles and mixed doubles pairings at their disposal.

All the action kicks off in Leuven on Wednesday 11th February with group matches in three session for two days. The Quarter finals will be played in two session on Friday 13th February with the semi-finals again in two sessions on Saturday 14th February. The finals which will be broadcast around the world to over 200 million homes will be played at 2pm local time and as always all the action throughout the week will be streamed live on BETV.

Article by Mark Phelan for Badminton Europe.
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