Great Britain Dreams of Joining Elite List, Austria Aims to Stop Them.
Both the recent World and European Team titles have been won by the host nation after Denmark claimed World Team glory in 2016 in Copenhagen and Austria claimed the European title last year in Vienna. As we arrive in Zurich, the Swiss team will be hoping to continue this pattern, but the odds are stacked against them as it is hard not to look beyond the top two seeds of Great Britain and Austria.
The division structure that debuted in 2017 returns for the World Championships, so our eight elite entries have been separated into two pools of four, headed by each of our two seeded nations. The top two from each pool will play in the semi-finals, with the winner from Group A playing second in Group B and vice versa. The bottom two teams in each group will play off to avoid relegation to Division 1, a fate that befell Finland in 2017. The draws for the Elite Groups will take place on the evening of Wednesday 23rd August, with competition beginning on Thursday 24th August and can be viewed here once they are completed.
A Tussle Between the Top Two?
Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Poland and Sweden – it is an elite club of nations to have won the World Team Racketlon title, and in 2018, Great Britain will be aiming to join this member’s club. Since the inauguration of a World Team Championships in 2002, Great Britain (or England as they were known) have only mustered a brace of Bronze medals, at the World Teams in 2004 and the European Championships in 2017, with additional semi-final defeats in 2002, 2003 and 2015.
However, they head to Zurich in probably their best ever shape, their squad containing world number 3 Dan Busby and world no.7 Duncan Stahl, not to mention Luke Barnes and Ray Jordan who are both ranked inside the world’s top 20 and 4 times British Champion Hannah Boden as their lady.
Their trump cards however come in the form of Leon Griffiths and Calum Reid. Calum has won nearly everything on offer in Racketlon including the world singles title in 2011 – but he is yet to win the team title. At the other end of the scale, Leon Griffiths is a rising star of the game, and runner-up in last season’s European Championships. It’s an impressive squad.
However, their main rivals, second seeds Austria, have players who require no introduction. Unlike no nation before, the Austrians once again bring the male and female world number 1s into their squad, Lukas Windischberger and Christine Seehofer. For good measure, the Austrians have named the world number 2 lady, Bettina Bugl, mainly because they just can! This makes them impressively strong up top, particularly in the ladies’ string, and are well backed up by George Stoisser as well as experienced campaigners Marcel Weigl and Thomas Wagner.
Rest of the Challengers Are Evenly Matched
Reigning World Champions, Denmark lead the rest of the chasing pack, however they have lost a number of crucial players due to unavailability or injury, leaving world number 2 and captain Morten Jaksland with a paucity of options this year. Sweden boast an excellent pedigree in this event in the past 4 years, having claimed the World Title in 2014, before bronze medals at the 2015 European Championships and 2016 World Championships. Their team is led by Christian Wall who was a member of the World Title winning team in 2014.
Joining the Scandinavians in this chasing pack are France, Germany, and hosts Switzerland. France are led by tour stalwart, Cedric Junilion, and while they are a compact unit with a good standard across the whole squad, they are perhaps lacking that X-factor player to ignite their challenge. Germany struggled in 2017, having to come through the relegation play-off system to remain in the elite Championship group, a poor draw pitting them against both eventual finalists, Denmark and Austria. In 2018, they come to Zurich boasting a squad that contains some exciting names including former world champion Natalie Vogel, while Thorsten Lentfer and Christian Wiessner recently showed their team prowess in the Champions League, so on their day they will be a genuine threat!
For hosts Switzerland, they can bet on a pair of (world number) 6’s, with Benny Granicher and Nicole Eisler in their side, but they will need their star players to perform for them to have any chance of getting to the business end of the event. Finally, the Czech Republic survived their nervy relegation play off with Finland in Vienna last year but this year they arrive with some lesser known but hugely talented players. Joining tour stalwarts Zuzana Severinova and Michael Horacek are the very dangerous Petr Vesely and Martin Sopko who will both cause one or two shocks to those who don’t do their research!.
All that is left now is for the draw at the captain’s meeting this Wednesday. Our top seeds look dominant, and the draw looks crucial for sides who have aspirations of making the semi-finals, however team Racketlon is the purest form of our sport, four head to head strings with the combined points across them all, determining which nation wins, the most extreme definition of every point counts. As such, anything can happen!
Pic credits: GB Racketlon & Racketlon Federation Austria