(By Steve Hopkins)
USA Men: Home Stretch in Group Stage
Team USA began the tournament with an upset of Spain in the group stages of the Liebherr 2018 World Table Tennis Team Championships. They have since defeated Puerto Rico and lost to Iran. This 2-1 record is shared by Spain, Iran, and Kazakhstan in the group, so effectively there is a four way tie for first and only three teams will advance to the compete in the knock-out stage for the championship of the 2nd Division.
Team USA has two matches remaining: Kazakhstan and Luxembourg (the teams seeded directly above and directly below the USA in the group). Team USA controls its own fate, in that winning both of the remaining matches will mean the US finishes no worse than second. If the US loses one of their remaining two matches, then their odds of advancing are good but not definite. And if the US loses both of the remaining matches they are not immediately eliminated, but would need some help from other teams (Spain would need to lose twice as well).
Thus far, Team USA is doing exactly what they need to do. They entered the event seeded fourth in the group and need to ensure that they finish in the top three. The win over Spain has put them in a very strong position. Tomorrow will be an exciting day – not just for Team USA but also for the rest of the group.
It is very difficult to predict results for the final matches as these competitors have not played each other previously. Though it is worth noting that Luxembourg and Puerto Rico were pretty evenly matched (Luxembourg won 3-2) and Team USA defeated Puerto Rico somewhat easily (3-1). On the other hand, Kazakhstan has an almost identical record as Team USA – they defeated Iran 3-2 and lost to Spain 2-3 (while Team USA defeated Spain 3-2 and lost to Iran 2-3). The match between Team USA and Kazakhstan could be the most important of the tournament for both teams as the winner will certainly be in the top 3 while the loser likely will not.