Surprise-free 2nd day at European Championship
By Lauri Jaakkola
Tough proved to be tough in the second day of the 2015 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby European Championship in Pajulahti, Finland.
Favorites Denmark, Great Britain and Sweden are the only teams without losses before the last group stage day in the tournament.
Here are the recaps of Wednesday’s five matches:
France got an impressive start to their European Championship campaign with a 54–45 win over Belgium in the first match of the Pool A. France got promoted to the A Division European Championship after winning B Division in April. They had already showed their quality in last year’s World Championship, though. They finished 9th being the fourth best European team in the Worlds.
– Of course the most important thing was to win the match and it doesn’t matter if it’s one goal or ten goal margin. But we have three group stage matches within 24 hours so it was important to get all 12 players on the court, told French coach Olivier Cusin.
– It’s amazing. It’s not fair but it’s amazing, said Cusin about the tight schedule in Pool A.
Above all, Pool A is very tough, with the reigning European Champion Sweden, and current European ranking number one Great Britain playing alongside France and Belgium.
– All the teams in this tournament are very good, even Belgium, although their problem is lack of players, Cusin said.
France managed to beat Sweden in the 2014 World Championship.
– We won with one goal margin. It tells that our upcoming matches are going to be very tight, Cusin told.
Germany took a step towards semifinals as they beat Ireland 62–58 in their second match in Pool B of the Wheelchair Rugby European Championship. Germany and Ireland are now both in two points, but Tuesday’s victory over Ireland gives an edge to the Germans.
– I’m satisfied with our performance. We played well as a team, said Thomas Schuwje of German team.
Germany’s strongest weapon in a short and intensive tournament is the depth of their roster. Ireland, for example, relies much more on single players – such as goal greedy Thomas Moylan’s – performances.
– Our wide roster is definitely an advantage for us. We can change line-ups if some players are getting tired, Schuwje said.
Germany meets home team Finland in their last match of the group stage on Thursday. Victory over hosts would most likely put the Germans to the semifinals.
– If we play as well as we did against Ireland we should be able to win. Our aim is at first to reach semifinals and let’s look after that if we can make it to the final. Of course we want to get a place to Rio, Schuwje said.
Finland lost to Denmark with crushing 37–62 numbers in their second match of the European Championship. Denmark is one of the gold medal favorites of the tournament and a clear number one of Pool B.
– The biggest different between us and them is their pace. At the end, we don’t have enough experience of the hardest matches, said Santeri Martikainen of Finnish team.
Martikainen, who lives in the city of Lahti, not far from the venue of the Games, made his Championship debut in the 2014 World Championship in Denmark. European Championship near his home is still something special for 25-year-old Lokomotiv Lahti player.
– At first it took some time to get in the game, but after a while I got used to it, said Martikainen who played in the first part of the Denmark match, when Finland still somehow managed to stay in the game.
Although Finland have lost both of their matches, they still stand a chance to reach semifinals if Denmark beats Ireland on Thursday and Finland wins Germany with at least three goals.
Finland beat Germany by one goal margin in the 2014 World Championship so it shouldn’t be impossible for them. One of the reason for a harsh numbers in the match against Denmark was that Finnish coaches let some of their key players rest ahead of all important match against Germany on Thursday.
Great Britain–France 53–52
Great Britain almost let a ten goal lead slip from their hands against France in Pool A match of the European Championship. GB still managed to hold on to a 53–52 lead and took two points.
– We were never worried. We knew what we’re doing. We wanted to give court time to all our players, explained Bulbul Hussain of GB Team.
Before the last minutes Great Britain was much better team in the court, though, so it’s still justifiable to say GB is a strong gold medal contender in the tournament. The last pool match against Sweden on Thursday evening will be a really interesting match-up.
– We are prepared for the tight match schedule and the big games ahead of us, said Hussain.
Thursday morning’s match against Sweden seems to be decisive for France. In that match we’ll see if France is ready to join the group of top three wheelchair rugby nations of the continent.
Sweden got an honor to be the last team to start their campaign in the Wheelchair Rugby European Championship as they met Belgium in Pool A match on Wednesday evening. The reigning European Champion started their title defending with a 54–48 victory over Belgium, who lost both of their matches on Wednesday.
– I’m satisfied with the result but not with our performance. Only 4–5 players performed well enough so we had to use a small roster, said Benoit Labrecque, a head coach of Team Sweden.
Labrecque wished his team would have been able to run past Belgium with two line-ups, but in the end both teams used the same players: Sweden played mostly with Tobias Sandberg, Tomas Hjert, Stefan Jansson and Glenn Adaszak, Belgium with their permanent Raf Hendrix, Ludwig Budeners, Ronny Verhaegen and Frederik Windey.
Sweden is facing a tough challenge on Thursday. They meet France in the morning and Great Britain in the evening.
– In my opinion Sweden vs. France is a game of the tournament so far. They have to win to reach semifinals, and we need a win either from France or Great Britain to go through, told Labrecque.
The full schedule and tournament results can be found at www.iwrf.com/?page=iwrf_news&id=454.