5 months and about 30C of temperature difference separates round 1 of the Champion’s League in Sweden and round 2 this coming weekend in Germany. As Europe melts (well the UK at least) in a summer heat-wave unlike any seen since *insert your national year of heat of preference here*, the Racketlon community will descend on Nussloch and the IWT German Open ft FIR Champion’s League. It will be hot, it will be fiercely competitive, but who will emerge victorious?
Division 1 – Can iPro London Hold Onto Their Lead?
All 7 of the rival captains after Round 1 of the Champion’s League believe iPro London are still the team to beat. In Sweden, Duncan Stahl’s iPro London dominated, picking up a maximum 9 points for three bonus point wins, defeating rivals KoR Oudenaarde, C&C Racketlonshop Austria and Three Percent Malta Magic by a net 170 points!
After getting last pick in the players draft, Duncan concentrated his lot on the Swedish leg, picking the strongest possible team for that weekend, aiming for maximum points (mission accomplished) and then clinging on in Germany.
The starting scoreboard pressure comes from Berlin Berghain Boasters (Triple B’s), who also won all three matches (against Sportyfriends Copenhagen, Swiss Army Knives and Swedish Vikings), but failed to pick up any vital bonus points – so Berlin sit in 2nd place, 3 points behind iPro London.
Amke Fischer is forced to take a back seat for round 2, but she seriously strengthens her team into the German leg: Elmar Schaub comes into their line-up, while Amke is replaced by world number 1, Chrissi Seehofer. This probably makes Berlin the strongest team on show in Nussloch and will make them a real threat to the London team. Berlin are scheduled to play London in the last team match of the weekend on Saturday evening – it looks like this match may well decide who will be crowned Champions League champions 2018!
Race to the Podium
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all from the Swedish leg was just how bad our “expert” turned out to be, labelling the Swiss Army Knives as the weakest team in the competition. However, with 5 points to their name and third place in the current standings, captain Benny Graenicher (nee Hampl) was left to enjoy his lofty standing, heaping praise on the performance of Stine Jacobson in their sides 2 victories in Sweden. However, even Benny isn’t getting ahead of himself, with his team staying roughly the same into the German leg, compared to the improvements in other sides, he very much sees it as a mission to defend his current standing in the Champion’s League.
Kresten Hougaard’s Malta Magic team managed to pick up 4 points in Sweden and then hoped to make a real bid for the title in Germany. However, their plans for a big push in Germany have been dealt some cruel injury blows with Kresten and Christian Wall both injured and unable to play. A couple of very solid replacements in Richard Middleton and Michael Skytte Pedersen (from the Malta 2nd team) alongside Hannah Boden and Jörn Sültrup, will keep them competitive they’ll have to play out of their skins to reach the podium now.
Also tipped to struggle in Sweden were the Swedish Vikings, however they collected three points, which pleased captain Anna-Klara Ahlmer. With Cedric Junillon coming into their squad in Germany and captain Anna-Klara also now fit enough to take her place in the team, the Swedes look strong into Round 2, however Anna-Klara is keeping her cards close to her chest.
More bullish is the perspective of Lukas Windischberger, captain of C&C Racketlonshop Austria. It was a chastening weekend in Sweden with only 2 points picked up, however Lukas is confident into the second weekend that the Austrian team, bolstered by the arrival of Thorsten Deck will be able to climb up the standings, targeting third place.
Propping up the table are the bottom two sides as Sportyfriends Copenhagen and KoR Oudenaarde endured torrid weekends in Malmo. For Copenhagen captain Morten, it all went wrong in the aftermath of the draft, losing Loic Cencig from their team, left Morten scrabbling around for a player to come in. However, Morten dismisses this as “captain’s duty” and was pleased that despite the troubles, they collected a couple of bonus points. With Dan Busby and Zuzanna Severinova coming in for the Germany leg, this is a side which will be able to call on some real firepower.
For KoR Oudenaarde and their captain Lieselot de Bleeckere it was on the day dramas, as main man Jesper Hougaard picked up an injury. With Jesper only available for Sweden, the 2017 runners up, were looking for a strong start in round 1, so this has scuppered their 2018 ambitions. However, Lieselot fully knows the brand she and her team represents, and KoR Oudenaarde will be in Germany, giving their all and enjoying every minute!
Looking at how it stands and the fixtures to come in Germany, it is hard to look past the Triple B’s and iPro London on the podium. iPro London will be trying to defend their 3 point lead during Friday’s matches, but I think the title will all come down to the Saturday evening showdown of London vs Berlin. Who joins them on the podium is anyone’s guess but the Swiss, Austrian, Copenhagen and Swedish teams all look to have a chance.
London or Berlin for Division 2? Malta say Neither!
With our 4 team Division 2, all the teams play each other in both Sweden and Germany, meaning that changes to the teams could be vital for the final standings. iPro London 2 followed in the footsteps of their Division 1 colleagues and dominated in Sweden, three victories and a bonus point ensuring they were top of the pile. 2 points behind are Berlin, so as with Division 1, the title seems to be between these two rivals.
One captain is however planning to ruin their party. Michael Pedersen has nailed his colours to the mast and truly believes that Malta Magic 2 will win all three of their matches in Germany – even though Michael has been called up to play for the Malta 1st team, he stays as non-playing captain pulling the selection strings and motivational masterstrokes! Adding GB u21 junior Patrick Middleton, Tanja Omlin and Hans van Daele to their squad, Michael welcomes all doubters to his confidence, to a wager of 5 Weiss bier that Malta 2 will take the Division 2 title!
A man not unaccustomed to a sports based bet, is iPro London 2 captain, Johnny Bispham, but Johnny knows that he still has a bit of work to do in Germany. Frank Kleiber comes in, maintaining their team belief in ignoring squash, but the loss of Jordan Dainty is a real blow, one Johnny freely acknowledges. In round 2, they know they can start strongly in the TT and Johnny hopes to cling on in their matches. This TT strength plus their two point lead in the standings, may well be enough to see the Brits home.
That the Triple B2’s have been beset by bad luck and injuries yet still manage to sit in second place in the Division 2 table speaks volumes about the Berliners tenacity. The injury problems continue in Germany with captain, Jenny Schmitz still injured, but they welcome two Swedes, Christofer Hellberg and Anders Akesson and two Germans, Johannes Heise and Beatrice Dommasch. Jenny, guiding her team from the side-lines is hopeful that the Triple B2’s can apply enough pressure on iPro London 2, whilst also dominating the 5th discipline, the bar!
Finally, we turn to the Swiss Army Knives 2, who languish at the bottom of the pile, without a point to their name. This is, however, an unfair reflection of their efforts in Sweden, but alas, sport can offer some chastening experiences sometimes. Captain Dara Ladner and Racketlon stalwart Graham King in particular threw their all into their matches, but it wasn’t possible for the Swiss to make a noticeable dent in their opposition. They look stronger in round 2, and while victory looks nigh on impossible, they could easily upset the apple cart. It is certainly easy to imagine that they could be the side that inadvertently makes or breaks a team’s title chances!
It will certainly be a tough Division 2 battle, but I am inspired by Michael Pedersen’s confidence and I too will back the Malta Magic 2’s to snatch the title away from iPro London 2 who will finish in second place!