(by Steve Hopkins)
A year ago, Borussia Dusseldorf was Europe’s main “superteam”. They had one upset loss through the year (to Patrick Franzisca’s Saarbrucken team), but otherwise dominated both the German League and the European Champions League. At that time, Ovtcharov also had a dominant team (Fakel Gazprom Orenburg in the Russian League) and the two squads were on a collision course for the Euro Champions Final. When Russia and Ukraine fell into chaos, the Champions League disqualified the Russian teams – and Dusseldorf coasted to the win.
The Russian leagues have yet to reform, and the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine left a number of players without a league squad. Several of those players have landed with TTC Neu-Ulm for this year’s Euro Champions League – and we are just now beginning to see the results. Who’s on the TTC Neu-Ulm Euro Champions squad? Dimitrij Ovtcharov (World No. 9), Tomokazu Harimoto (World No. 4), Truls Moregardh (World No. 5), and Lin Yun-Ju (World No. 8). Their World Rankings of 4, 5, 8, and 9 will match up favorably against any team – even Borussia Dusseldorf and their superteam top three of Timo Boll (World No. 12), Dang Qiu (World No. 11), and Anton Kallberg (World No. 20) and their fourth player is Germany’s rising star Kay Stumper (without a strong ranking – but with impressive, inconsistent results in his young career).
Stage 2 of the Champions League was played last week. Neu Ulm faced Poland’s best team (KS Dekorglass Dzialdowo) and won 3-1. The upset loss was Ovtcharov, who fell to Kaii Konishii 1-3. But for this superteam, they can have an upset and still dominate. Lin Yun Ju won twice, and Truls Moregard won once – giving Neu Ulm a relatively easy 3-1 win.
For Dusseldorf, they faced HB Ostrov Havlickuv Brod (a Czech team) and won 3-1. Tomas Martinko upset Anton Kallberg in the opening match 3-1. Boll then evened the score with a 3-1 win over Sirucek. Stumper defeated Tomas Tregler 3-1, and then Kallberg closed the door with a 3-0 win over Sirucek.
Both teams expect to make deep runs. In fact, both teams are favored to make the final. A year ago, Ovtcharov and Boll were each anchoring a team on a collision course for the Euro Champions Final. This year, the same collision is expected – but neither of these players is the top ranked player on their team. Dusseldorf has seen the rise of Dang Qiu as one of the best players in Europe, and Ovtcharov has relocated and reloaded – bringing Sweden’s best, Taipei’s best, and Japan’s best along for the ride.
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