9:23 am
14 Jun 2024

Belgium Women Survive Big European Teams Scare On Day One

2 May 2024

Second seeds Belgium survived a big scare in the women's competition on day one of the ESF European Team Division 1 and 2 Championships in Uster, Switzerland.

The opening day saw two rounds of pool matches in Division 1 at the seven-court Uster Squash Arena - and, while defending champions England sailed through their opening encounters in both the men's and women's event, Belgium's women - fancied by many to win the title this year for the first time ever - were not quite so comfortable.

Nele Gilis and Tinne Gilis, the sisters who are ranked four and nine in the world respectively, both won in the morning's 2/1 victory over Scotland, but Nele was stunned in four games by resurgent world No.20 Tesni Murphy 11-6 9-11 7-11 9-11 in Belgium's afternoon encounter against Wales in Pool B.

Tinne had earlier beaten Welsh teenager Ellie Breach (with Emily Whitlock and Lowri Roberts surprisingly not selected) so that set up a tense third-string match decider between Marie van Riet and Stacey Gooding, which Van Riet won 11-7 7-11 11-8 11-7.

"Tesni played fantastic and Nele started to get a bit nervous after the second game as she knew she wasn't playing her best squash. It was a big relief when Marie won the last match," said Belgium coach Ronny Vlassaks.

He continued: "We have our best chance of winning the title this year because Tinne has become stronger and more mature in her game. She is finding it easier than a year ago when she was affected by nerves in big matches."

Belgium sit top of Pool B ahead of Wales, Scotland and hosts Switzerland, who lost both their opening matches against Wales and Scotland.

In women's Pool A, top seeds England beat both Czech Republic and France 3/0, while France's entertaining 2/1 victory over Spain means they sit second in the pool.

In the men's competition, it was an incredible day for Dimitri Steinmann who beat his coach Simon Rosner in Switzerland's morning 3/1 win over Germany, then produced what he called "one of my best matches ever" in defeating France's world No.11 Victor Crouin 11-9 11-7 11-4.

Steinman said: "That's probably the best performance I've ever put together. It was a great atmosphere. I love playing for the Swiss national team, especially at home. I knew it was going to be a physical battle, but I played to my strengths and executed very well."

Switzerland, however, went on to lose the match 3/1 to the French thanks to wins from Gregoire Marche, Sebastien Bonmalais and Baptiste Masotti. France defeated Czech Republic 4/0 earlier in the day so they sit top of Pool B - a great start to their bid to regain the title they last won in 2018.

England, aiming for their 44th European title, cruised to 4/0 victories over Ireland and Wales in Pool A. Ben Smith and Tom Walsh both made their senior debuts following the late injury withdrawals of captain Adrian Waller and Nick Wall. Smith, who beat Ireland's Michael Creaven in four games, was about to fly to America to play in the NSL when he received the call on Friday.

"I was over the moon!" he said. "I was nervous to start with and although I've beaten Michael a few times before, that goes out of the window in a team event. It's surreal to be here and to have Mo and Marwan [ElShorbagy] behind the glass supporting me is a dream come true."

In Division 2, the stakes are high with the finalists in both men's and women's competitions earning promotion to Division 1 for 2025 (and the bottom two teams in Division 1 relegated).

The men's Division 2 event has four pools of three. Scotland beat Poland 4-0 to top Pool A, Hungary and Slovakia will play on Thursday to decide who tops Pool B, Belgium will win Pool C if they beat Norway on Thursday and Israel have already sealed qualification from Pool D with wins over Sweden and Austria.

The Swedish team is mourning the sudden and devastating loss of Filip Kr├╝eger who was killed in an accident three weeks ago, with all players and officials paying tribute to him with a minute's silence at Tuesday's opening ceremony.

Women's Division 2 has one pool of four and one of five. Finland top Pool A after day one after a 3-0 win over Slovenia and 2-1 victory against Denmark, who sit second. In Pool B, Germany and Poland both won their matches against Norway and the Netherlands so the neighbours will face each other on Thursday with the winner set to win the group.