England’s men’s and women’s teams will have very different challenges when the European Team Championships get under way in Malmo, Sweden, at the weekend.
While the men’s team will aim to get into the medal picture – having been knocked out at the quarter-final stage in the last two editions – the women are up against two of the continent’s big guns.
Liam Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall, Tom Jarvis and Sam Walker are in the men’s squad which will face Norway and then Romania in Group G. England are the top team in the group at No 13 in the world.
With the top two to go through to the last 16, England will expect to beat Norway, the lowest ranked team in the group at No 115.
Romania, ranked at 24, may be a different matter as they defeated Great Britain 3-1 at the European Games in June – although both Pitchford and Jarvis have since both beaten second-ranked Romanian player Ovidiu Ionescu on the WTT circuit.
Pitchford has looked in good form despite recent defeats to world No 10 Dimitrij Ovtcharov and No 11 Darko Jorgic in WTT events – both matches could easily have gone his way on another day.
The England No 1 said: “We’ve got a rematch with Romania hoping to get revenge from the European Games. I think we’re all in a better place to do that now. The last few tournaments have been pretty good, a lot of positives.
“I’m confident we’re all going to be in good shape out there.”
Jarvis, who won the Halmstad Masters event at the weekend, also has confidence to take into the tournament.
He said: “I’m excited. We’ve got a really strong team. There’s a lot of good teams as well but I think we’ve all been in good form recently and I think if we can come together as a team then we can get some good results.
“I think we lost in the quarter-finals the last two times. The last time was a really tough match against Denmark, we lost 3-2 in the fifth match, so that one really hurt. But hopefully we can come back and fix it. We’ve been close before, so we can do it again.”
Jarvis lives close to the venue and joked: “It’s only 20 minutes away from where I live, so I’ll hop on the train and play some matches. I think it’ll work in my favour.”
England women will be represented by a trio relatively inexperienced at the top level – Jasmin Wong and Mollie Patterson are making their major debuts and will compete alongside Emily Bolton, who was called up as a late injury replacement for Patterson for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
And they face a daunting task in Group A, where they will face defending champions and No 3 team in the world, Germany, and an Austrian team ranked 20th.
For Patterson, there is delight at belatedly getting her senior debut after a shoulder injury ruined her Commonwealth Games dream.
She said: “I’m really pleased I managed to get selected this time after not being able to play at the Commonwealths last year, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do out there.
“It was really tough to deal with – it was due to an injury that was out of my control and maybe wanting to push through it more than the doctors would allow, so this time I’ll hopefully be completely injury free and ready to go.
“I love wearing the England shirt because it means my hard work has paid off and I’ve been chosen to represent my country.”
With England down at No 80 in the rankings, it is perhaps fair to say expectations outside the squad are low. But the flip-side to that is the opportunity to test themselves against some of the best in Europe and make a name for themselves by springing a surprise.
Wong said: “I’m very excited – my first major senior debut so looking forward to playing against top-level players.
“We’re underdogs in our group, so there’s no pressure and I think we can just be free and play.”
The European Championships begins on Sunday.