The Champions League returned this year with 64 players across 12 teams and two divisions. In January the 8 Team Captains in Division 1 and 4 Team Captains in Division 2 took part in a Live Draft on the FIR Facebook Page in order to pick their squads for the 2018 Champions League season.
Once again, this created a lot of interest amongst the Racketlon community as players from all countries, all ages and all abilities watched themselves get picked to play for one of the 12 international Racketlon Team Franchises. All results online on fir.tournamentsoftware.com
In Division 1, all the teams would play 3 matches in Malmo but then play 4 matches in Nussloch, which meant that most of the Team Captains made sure in the Draft that they had their strongest squads in place for the 2nd leg in Nussloch.
Bonus Point Wins Put iPro On Top
With iPro London (credit:DS) picking last in the Draft this meant the strongest players in Germany had already been picked by other teams, meaning iPro instead had to pick their strongest squad for Malmo. This soon showed as iPro London dominated their matches against Malta, Racketlonshop Austria and KOR Oudenaarde, with captain Duncan Stahl and new team mate Rene Lindberg winning all 3 of their singles and all 3 of their doubles matches together. Combined with last year’s MVP Natalie Paul and the very strong Christian Wiessner, iPro won their matches by large margins ensuring they gained bonus points (winning by more than +40) in all 3 matches meaning they sit clear at the top of the table on 9 points.
Berlin Berghain Boasters, captained by Amke Fischer who along with Cornelius Rademacher (who both won 5 out of their 6 singles/doubles) were the only other team to win all 3 of their matches (against Copenhagen, Swiss Army Knives and the Swedish Vikings) but without any bonus points gained, they finished 3 points behind iPro. However, with the addition of the dangerous Elmar Shaub to their squad in Germany, Berlin will feel they could be close enough to catch iPro to win the title. The Berlin vs iPro London match in Nussloch could be the BIG match of Champions League 2018!!
“Are You Leicester City in Disguise?”
Without any doubt, the big surprise team in Malmo who took great pleasure in proving the “experts” completely wrong was the Swiss Army Knives, led by the smiling assassin Beni Hampl. With 2 wins out of 3 and 1 losing bonus point (losing by 20 pts or less), Beni and his team of Alex Du Noyer, Ed Harvey and Stine Jacobsen, sit 3rd in the table. With the mighty Silke Altman joining their squad for Germany can the “Leicester City” of the Racketlon CL hang on for a podium finish?
Malta Magic Stay in Touch (just)
The other teams all tried desperately to scrape together enough points to keep them in touch in the table and one team who will quietly think that they still have a good chance is Malta Magic. Adding Jorn Sultrup and Hannah Boden alongside Kresten Hougaard and Christian Wall for Germany means they will be tough to beat and with 4 matches still to play, they could be in striking distance of the title!
Copenhagen, Austria and the Swedish Vikings will all also strengthen their teams considerably and won’t be ruling out a late run in Germany to try and grab a podium finish.
|Position||Team||Matches Played||Points Difference||TOTAL POINTS|
|2.||Berlin Berghain Boasters||3||+77||6|
|3.||Swiss Army Knives||3||+10||5|
|4.||Three Percent Malta Magic||3||-2||4|
|7.||C&C Racketlonshop Union Austria||3||-56||2|
|8.||King of Rackets Oudenaarde||3||-112||1|
In Division 2, similar to Division 1, all teams would play 3 matches in Malmo against the other 3 sides and then in Nussloch the teams will play a “2nd leg” against each other in a “home and away” type format.
iPro 2 Victorious in Key Match vs Berlin 2
iPro London 2, touted as early joint favourites with Berlin Berghain Boasters 2, got an immediate chance to back up the words of their captain as they played their pre-tournament rivals. With both teams perhaps a touch stronger in Malmo than they will be in Nussloch later in the year, this match was huge for both sides. It was a tight match throughout but with Berlin leading by 1 point going into the tennis they would’ve been overwhelming favourites to strike the first blow. But after a pair of very gutsy doubles and a big women’s singles win, London pulled through to take the match +7. The British trio of captain Johnny Bispham, Jordan Dainty and Lindsay Johnson-Farge took this momentum into their final two matches, first beating Malta Magic 2 by +17 and then claiming a first bonus point by defeating Swiss Army Knives 2 +48. The 3 wins and 7 points see them emulate their Division 1 counterparts and hold the top spot in the table at the half way point of the competition.
Berlin 2 Still in the Hunt for Division 2 Title
Following the early disappointment of a defeat to iPro London 2, Berlin Berghain Boasters 2 looked to get their campaign back on track. They did this, recording a pair of solid wins (+25 vs Swiss Army Knives 2 and +27 vs Malta Magic 2) while also stopping their opponents recording losing bonus points. Therefore, along with the losing bonus point they recorded against iPro London 2, they leave themselves on 5 points within striking distance of the leaders. On an individual front, Christopher Hellberg led the team ably, with help from the enigmatic Jean Michot and the returning Anneli Anbelin coming in as an injury replacement for captain Jenny Schmitz. This team will certainly fancy their chances heading to Nussloch with Jenny to come back into the side.
Pedersen Magic Keeps Malta Hopes Alive
Malta Magic 2 meanwhile got their campaign off to the best possible start, defeating Swiss Army Knives 2 +64 for the biggest Division 2 win of the day, and locking in 3 points. Unfortunately as mentioned above, that was the only win they could record on the day, although they did manage to pick up a losing bonus point against iPro London 2, so they leave themselves on 4 points, just a bonus point win away from top spot. Michael Skytte Pedersen led his team very well, with some excellent tactical moves in his line-ups which kept the other teams guessing. And again he was supported exceptionally by his number 1 draft pick, Thomas Olsson, as well as Heli Makela. Malta 2 will have all 4 players in Nussloch, making them a team to watch out for as freshness and points wise they’re in great shape to bridge the gap.
Tough Day for the Swiss
Finally come Swiss Army Knives 2, who had a tough day despite playing well throughout. Captain Dara Ladner played brilliantly all day and along with stalwart Graham King and their Swedish table tennis specialist Frederik Tor Groth they battled hard and managed to stop Berlin Berghain Boasters 2 getting a winning bonus point which could prove crucial after Nussloch. With 0 points, they may be out of the running for the title, but with the 2nd round to come, they may still have a big say of who walks away with the crown!
|Position||Team||Matches Played||Points Difference||TOTAL POINTS|
|1.||iPro London 2||3||+72||7|
|2.||Berlin Berghain Boasters 2||3||+45||5|
|3.||Three Percent Malta Magic 2||3||+20||4|
|4.||Swiss Army Knives 2||3||-137||0|
Champions League Gets Bigger and Better
Once again the new Champions League format proved very popular with all the players who enjoyed playing and fighting hard for their different team mates from all over the world. Many thanks to the 12 CL captains for all their hard work taking part in the Live Draft, forming great team spirits, finding sponsors, creating amazing team shirts and all in all making the Champions League the most exciting team event in Racketlon!