(by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor / Photo: Steve Parkin)
England back from precipice;two million viewers tune in to watch
Follow the England Men’s Team but before you do take make sure that your heart is in good order; watching the trio of Paul Drinkhall, Liam Pitchford and Sam Walker is no place for those who are not prepared to ride the roller coaster at the local theme park.
At the Perfect World Team Championships earlier this year and at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when representing Great Britain, the trio beat France in matches where the saving of match points to succeed was necessary.
Against Greece in their European Championships qualification match on the evening of Tuesday 1st November at the Fenton Manor Sports Stadium in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, just down the road from the Alton Tower theme park, it was same again; a fighting spirit resulted in dramatic success.
England trailed by two matches to nil after Liam Pitchford had lost to Konstantinos Papageorgiou by the very narrowest of margins (11-13, 10-12, 11-3, 11-5, 13-11) and Paul Drinkhall had suffered defeat when facing the defensive skills of Panagiotis Gionis (11-9, 12-10, 13-11).
“That’s what we’re all about – fighting, supporting and never giving in. We’ve had a few close games now and won them all. It was a team performance; we played for each other and fought for each other. It’s not the best we’ve played, but we won and that’s the main thing”, Liam Pitchford
Immediately after, matters looked even bleaker; a three matches to nil defeat seemed imminent when Sam Walker trailed 8-10 in the deciding game against Ioannis Sgouropoulos. Incredibly, as he did against Simon Gauzy at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he won four points in a row (7-11, 10-12, 11-6, 11-6, 12-10) to keep England hopes alive.
“It was a great game for both teams and the spectators. All the games were very close. It was in small details and England was happy in the end. It will be very exciting when we play in Greece and we will see”, Panagiotis Gionis
The sensational win sparked the recovery; Liam Pitchford beat Panagiotis Gionis (6-11, 13-11, 13-11, 13-11) before Paul Drinkhall recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Konstantinos Papageorgiou (11-9, 5-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-5) to gave England the overall victory in front of their home crowd.
Notably, the match was also shown live on the Facebook page of TheSPORTbible. More than two million unique viewers watched the action.