Reports from Amsterdam

30-Apr, Day FOUR:
England Reign Supreme In Europe
Howard Harding reports from Amsterdam
England maintained their continental supremacy in squash today  with victories in the men's and women's events in the European Team Championships at the Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

Whilst the men's was a straightforward affair - their sixth successive win over France in the final - the England women were taken to the wire by hosts Netherlands before securing a 2/1 victory and the title for the 28th year in a row.

Jenny Duncalf, the world No10 from Harrogate, put the defending champions into the lead with a 9-0 9-2 9-2 win over Dutch team newcomer Margriet Huisman. To the delight of the jubilant local crowd, already in a celebratory mood in honour of Queen's Day, world champion Vanessa Atkinson brought the underdogs back into contention by beating England's top string Linda Elriani 9-2 10-8 9-6 - marking the British National champion from Sussex's first ever defeat in the tournament.

Just eight world ranking positions separated the two players In the decider - England's Vicky Botwright, the seventh-ranked England No2 from Manchester, and Annelize Naude, the world No15 from Amsterdam.

Botwright had two game balls before clinching the opening game, then sped to a two-game lead after Naude went into "panic mode" in the second, according to Dutch coach Ellie Pierce. However, Naude mounted a mighty fightback in the third to reduce the deficit, but Botwright ultimately clinched the match, and the championship for England, 10-8 9-0 9-10 9-5 in 77 minutes.

"That was undoubtedly the most pressure I've ever been under," said the near-tearful England star afterwards. "I was just thinking of all those years that England has won this title, and I didn't want to be the one to end that incredible run. I definitely nearly cried when I won - it was such a relief," added 27-year-old Botwright.

England National Coach David Pearson was full of praise for Botwright: "When you play for your country, things happen which don't happen when you're playing for yourself on the WISPA World Tour. Vicky really showed her strength in that match - she showed she could do it."

Pearson's opposite number Ellie Pierce is confident that Netherlands success is not far away in this event: "We are much more of a team than we've ever been before - and we're a young team too - and we will make it for sure sometime in the next three years. Vanessa played fantastically, and Margriet put in a brave performance in her debut. And, to Annelize's credit, she put in a Herculean effort to win her third game - but Vicky simply didn't make any mistakes!"

The men's finale was almost resolved after the first two matches when squad No4 James Willstrop and third string Nick Matthew swept to straight games wins over Frenchmen Laurent Elriani and Renan Lavigne, respectively. When Yorkshireman Lee Beachill clinched the first game against world No1 Thierry Lincou - disappointingly, on a stroke - the title became beyond France's reach.

Beachill went on to overcome Lincou 9-4 7-9 9-4 in a 56-minute 'best-of-three' match and team-mate Peter Nicol beat Gregory Gaultier 9-4 4-9 10-8 in a 'dead rubber' which entertained the packed Frans Otten Station crowd as England strode to a 4/0 triumph - the 13th European men's title in a row, and England's 30th crown since the inaugural event in 1973.

Local organisers were delighted with the host nation's performance. In addition to finishing as runners-up in the women's competition for the third consecutive time, Netherlands beat third seeds Wales 3/1 to clinch third place in the men's event - their highest ever finish.

"We did as well as we could have hoped for in the event here - and can now look forward to carrying this success through to the Men's World Team Championships later this year," said Dutch men's team manager Peter Berden.

Fair Play awards were made by the European Squash Federation to Denmark's Ellen Petersen and Ukraine's Roman Dolynych. The men's 1st Division final was won by Hungary, 4/0 winners over Czech Republic in the play-off for 13th place, while the women's 1st Division title was claimed by Austria, who also beat Czech Republic 2/1 in the 11th place play-off.

 Reports from Amsterdam

29-Apr, Day THREE:
European Finalists
Reconvene In Amsterdam
Howard Harding reports from Amsterdam
Saturday's climax of the European Team Championships will take on a familiar look when top seeds England face second seeds France in the men's final for the sixth successive year, and favourites England meet hosts and No2 seeds Netherlands at the Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam in the third women's final in a row.

Defending men's champions England were in impressive form in the 4/0 defeat of third seeds Wales which takes them into the final for the 13th successive year.

Yorkshiremen James Willstrop and Simon Parke struck early blows against their British rivals with straight games victories in the third and fourth strings, respectively. When team-mates Lee Beachill and Peter Nicol, ranked three and four in the world, built up unassailable leads in the matches which followed, the tie became beyond Wales's reach, resulting in both Alex Gough and David Evans, respectively, conceding their efforts.

Not to be outdone, France also secured a 4/0 triumph over hosts Netherlands in the other men's semi-final. World No1 Thierry Lincou recorded his fourth straight games win in the event when he beat Dutch champion Tommy Berden 9-4 9-1 9-0 in the top string clash on the three-sided-glass showcourt at the 21-court centre in Amsterdam.

"Our third and fourth strings Lucas Buit and Marc Reus played particularly well in long battles in the first two matches - but we must now focus ourselves on tomorrow's play-off for third place against Wales," said Dutch team manager Peter Berden.

There were tense moments in the early stages of the two women's semi-finals when England's world No6 Linda Elriani and world No2 Vanessa Atkinson, of the Netherlands, both dropped games in their top string encounters.

Elriani came back from a game down to beat Madeline Perry 8-10 9-6 9-6 9-5 as women's title-holders England defeated seventh seeds Ireland 3/0 - and Atkinson squandered a 2/0 lead before triumphing 10-8 9-0 2-9 9-7 over Pamela Nimmo (to whom she lost in the event 12 months ago) to lead the hosts to a 3/0 victory over eighth seeds Scotland.

In the promotion and relegation battles for next year's Premier Division, Scotland's men made a triumphant return to the top flight by beating Ireland 3/1, then Germany in a 7-6 countback on games, to earn a place in the play-off for fifth place - guaranteeing the 12th seeds the best finish for three years.

Sweden, the 11th seeds, also made sure of an improvement in their 2004 finish in the men's event - surviving two close battles to reach Saturday's play-off against Scotland. It took a 73-67 points countback to separate Sweden from neighbours Finland, and then a 7-6 countback in games to give the Badr Abdel Aziz-led squad the edge over Spain.

Hungary and Czech Republic will meet in the 1st Division final play-off, with the latter sure to achieve the highest finish ever. The Czech women will also claim a best-ever finish after upsetting Italy in the 11th-14th place play-offs.

 Reports from Amsterdam

28-Apr, Day TWO:
Netherlands & England Book
Semis Doubles In Amsterdam
Howard Harding reports from Amsterdam

Favourites England and hosts Netherlands claimed places in the semi-finals of both the men's and women's events in the European Team Championships for the third successive year after victories in Thursday's final qualifying ties at the Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

In the men's event, defending champions England swept to their third successive 4/0 triumph in the event - beating fifth seeds Ireland without dropping a game to finish at the top of the Pool A in the Premier Division. Netherlands, the fourth seeds, finished in second place in the Pool after a 3/1 victory over eighth seeds Finland - the hosts' No1 Tommy Berden going down in five games to flying Finn Olli Tuominen, the world No21 from Helsinki.

Second seeds France, runners-up to England for the past five years, also claimed their third 4/0 win in a row in Pool B when they despatched sixth seeds Spain to set up a semi-final against the hosts. National champion Alex Gough made his first appearance for third seeds Wales - and led his country to a 4/0 victory over Germany, the seventh seeds, to ensure runners-up position in the pool.

Wales will celebrate their ninth successive appearance in the semi-finals by meeting British rivals England.

In the first year of the promotion/relegation play-offs, the lower-placed teams in the top two pools - Finland, Ireland, Germany and Spain - will fight to maintain their places in the Premier Division in ties against the winners of Pools C, D, E & F - Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden and Scotland, respectively.

England and Netherlands appear to be heading for their third successive meeting in the women's final after winning the Premier Division Pools A & B, respectively. But there were surprises in the runners-up positions in the two pools after eighth seeds Scotland upset fourth seeds Belgium 2/1 to finish in second place in Pool A, and seventh seeds Ireland brushed aside France, the third seeds, 3/0 in Pool B to earn a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1994.

Title-holders England will meet Ireland while Netherlands will face Scotland.


Reports from Amsterdam A happy England setup
Malcolm Willstrop

The 2005 championships are to be played with 'Premier Divisions' for the men's and women's events, with the play-off stages to be used to decide promotion/relegation from the top division.

This means that only eight teams, those in Pools A and B,  can actually win each event.

27-Apr, Day ONE:
Netherlands Fight Back After Early European Disappointment
Howard Harding reports from Amsterdam

Netherlands, the fourth seeds, made up for the disappointment of a 4/0 defeat by title-holders England in the opening tie in the Men's Premier Division qualifiers of the European Team Championships by crushing fifth seeds Ireland 4/0 later in the day at the Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

In the women's event, world champion Vanessa Atkinson led the hosts to an emphatic double victory - the second seeds beating both third seeds France and seventh seeds Ireland by 3/0 margins.

England spoil hosts' start
Led by world No3 Lee Beachill, England's men were in devastating form in defeating Netherlands. The top seeds followed this victory by securing a second 4/0 win in Pool A over eighth seeds Finland - who had earlier drawn 2/2 with Ireland.

But spirits in the Dutch camp were raised when their full-strength squad - featuring reigning Dutch champion Tommy Berden and fast-improving 22-year-old world No31 Laurens Jan Anjema - maintained a clean sheet in games in their victory over Ireland.

"We were very pleased with our performance in the evening," said Dutch men's team manager Peter Berden. "Lucas Buit, a nine-times Dutch champion who has played in countless European Championships, showed that he has still got what it takes to beat Irishman Steve Richardson (himself, a former Irish champion) and squad No1 Tommy Berden lasted well in a 31-minute first game against Liam Kenny to go through to win in straight games, taking the second 9/0!

"It was a great help to us that Ireland and Finland drew in the morning - so we should qualify for the semi-finals without too much trouble tomorrow," added Berden senior.

French on form
Second seeds France, runners-up to England for the past five years, kicked off their 2005 campaign with 4/0 wins over third seeds Wales and seventh seeds Germany in Pool B. Wales, who rested their numbers one and two Alex Gough and David Evans, respectively, against France, recalled Evans in the later tie against Spain, the sixth seeds. Evans beat the Spanish No1 Borja Golan 9-5 9-4 9-0, but Golan's team-mate Albert Codina twice came from behind to beat Welshman Ricky Davies 7-9 9-3 4-9 9-5 9-2 to deny the third seeds a maximum points victory.

Premier Divisions
This year's men's event introduces a 'Premier Division' for the top eight seeds competing in Pools A & B. The winners and runners-up after two days of qualifying go through to the semi-finals - and a guaranteed place in next year's Premier Division - leaving the remaining four teams to compete in play-offs with the winners of Pools C, D, E and F to fight for the other positions in next year's top division.

Women's Seeds Sail Through
The two top seeds in the women's event sailed through their opening day opposition. The two triumphs by the Netherlands were matched by favourites England, who beat fourth seeds Belgium and eighth seeds Scotland 3/0 in Pool A.

Russia v Ukraine
Arguably the clash of the day took place on courts 14 and 15 where the mighty Russia faced men's event newcomers Ukraine - a cross-border battle between the 20th and 21st seeds which could ultimately decide the competition's 'wooden spoon'.

Alexei Severinov put Russia ahead with a 9-4 9-3 9-7 win over the Ukraine No1 Roman Dolynych - but the squash minnows bravely fought back to clinch an unlikely victory when the Ukraine No4 Ilya Onishko sealed a 3/1 triumph by coming back from a game down to beat Russia's Andrey Brattner 7-9 9-0 9-3 4-9 10-8 in 65 minutes.

"To be honest, it was a closer match than we expected," said Dolynych, the 27-year-old from Kiev who has only been playing squash for some three years. "We beat them a few months ago in the European Nations Challenge Cup in Slovenia, so we thought we would win - but this time it was a tougher battle.

"I have beaten Alexei twice before, but not recently - as he has been playing more regularly while I have been playing less, concentrating my time on setting up the new Squash federation in Ukraine," Dolynych explained.

Ukraine's next opponents will be Scotland, the 12th seeds led by world No11 John White, a former world No1. "I've played John once before - in the European Individual Championships in Bratislava last September - so I know his game now," said an optimistic Dolynych!

Reports from 2004
Reports from 2003
Reports from 2002