Netherlands Seeks Elusive Medal but Is it Last Chance?
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Netherlands Seeks Elusive Medal: Li Jia – Photo By: Hideyuki Imai / Studio Aupa

Netherlands Seeks Elusive Medal but Is it Last Chance?

Netherlands Seeks Elusive Medal but Is it Last Chance?
Courtesy of ITTF

A higher finish than originally predicted but great disappointment; that was the lot of the Netherlands in the Women’s event at the ZEN-HOH 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo.

They started proceedings at the no.15 seeds and reached the quarterfinal stage; now with no changes to the principal three names on the entry form, at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships which commence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Sunday February 28th, they occupy the no.4 seed position.

Notably, in Kuala Lumpur, they lead the European challenge.

Rocky Road
Two years ago it was a rocky road; in the group stage of proceedings they lost to Korea, Russia and Singapore but beat France and more significantly Luxembourg. They finished level on seven points with Luxembourg, gaining third place and progress to the main draw as result of their victory when the two teams met.

Impressively a three-nil success was posted against Chinese Taipei in the opening round, before an agonizing defeat was experienced in the quarterfinals when losing to the host nation in a full distance encounter.

Agonizing
Li Jiao beat both Kasumi Ishikawa and Sayaka Hirano, before Kasumi Ishikawa overcame Britt Eerland in the decisive contest, to secure a home win.

Defeat hurts but a close defeat hurts even more and it hurt the Netherlands. In that fifth and decisive match, Britt Eerland recovered from a two games to nil deficit to force a decider; she won the first three points of that vital game before the consistency of Kasumi Ishikawa eventually prevailed.

Best Chance
A medal denied, could Kuala Lumpur be the best chance for the Netherlands to secure that precious podium finish? Equally in the foreseeable future could it be the last chance?

Against Japan in Tokyo, Li Jiao was unbeaten; she is the pivotal player in the team, if she can win both her matches then there is great hope for the Netherlands

Style of Play
However, she is now 43 years old but her style of play, a left handed pen-holder who excels in the art of service and first attack, is one that perhaps does not exude the greatest of energy and by being somewhat out-of-date gives her an advantage.

It is a style no longer favored; very few players of the modern era have any experience at all of playing against such a technique.
Although at recent European Championships, she fulfilled a coaches’ role with the Men’s Team, she did win the Women’s Singles title at the 2015 European Games. She has qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but will that tournament be her swansong?

Successful Year
Li Jie, at 31 years of age, enjoyed splendid results in 2015; she reached the fourth round of the Women’s Singles event at the Qoros World Championships in Suzhou, whilst later in the year, she was the runner up at the Liebherr 2015 European Championships in Ekaterinburg.

Meanwhile, there is no questioning the talent of Britt Eerland, 22 years old, the 2010 European Youth champion but since the ZEN-HOH 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo whilst there have been creditable performance, there have been no really sensational results.

It is a team of three generations and for how much longer will the senior member appear at the helm. There is no-one waiting in the wings to replace Li Jiao.

Vital to Success
In Kuala Lumpur she is vital to the success of the Netherlands; quarterfinalists in 2010 in Moscow, the same in Dortmund in 2012, once again in Tokyo in 2014; can it be one stage better in 2016?

Li Jiao holds the key.

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