Wednesday, April 24, 2024

France end England’s domination of European U19 Team Championship

France etched a new name on the ESF European Under-19 Mixed Team Squash Championship trophy as they ended England’s 12-year domination with a dramatic victory in Sunday’s final in Bucharest.

Ten times France had finished runners-up in Europe’s premier junior team squash competition since its first staging in 1983, but Sunday at Aerosquash Baneasa was the first time ever ‘Les Bleuets’ had taken the last step and lifted the title. In doing so, they became only the third nation (after Germany in 2006 and 2009 and Sweden in 1983) to defeat England in the competition’s 41-year history.

France summoned incredible reserves of character to exact revenge after losing both Individual finals to the English last Tuesday – hot prospect Jonah Bryant had beaten Melvil Scianimanico in five games while Amelie Haworth produced a staggering comeback to conquer France’s 16-year-old sensation Lauren Baltayan.

But in the European U19 Team final, France exacted revenge. After one victory each for Bryant and Baltayan, the result came down to the third tie between England’s Abdallah Eissa and France’s dazzling Amir Khaled-Jousselin who, aged just 15, has a long future ahead in this competition.

It was Khaled-Jousselin who took it 11-9, 12-10, 11-5. He was soon buried under a heap of celebrating French bodies after hitting the winning point with a straight backhand kill that Eissa couldn’t return.

It was Balatayan’s sensational five-game victory over Haworth – reversing the result of their European U19 Individual final last Tuesday – that laid the platform for France’s historic victory.

Baltayan, aged just 16 and fuelled by immense bravery and determination, raced out of the blocks against Haworth to take the first two games 11-6, 11-6. She lost the third on a tie-break and Haworth then levelled up by taking the fourth 11-8. For the second time in five days, the pair went to a decider – but this time it was Cairo-born Baltayan who clinched it 11-7 in 42 minutes.

England levelled the final at 1-1 when the classy Bryant showed his trademark accuracy, consistency and stunning retrieval in beating Scianimanico 11-5, 11-8, 11-1 in 29 minutes. It was a far cry from their 75-minute epic in the Individual final last week.

That set the stage for the decider between Eissa and Khaled-Jousselin which the younger player won with a brilliant performance that earned France their first ever title and marked only the fourth time in 38 years that England have failed to lift this trophy.

France team manager Malcolm Tullis said the tournament had been “an emotional rollercoaster” after the loss of the two Individual finals in five games last Tuesday. He said: “It was really hard to get the team back on track in the next two days but we fought it through. There was a lot of fatigue, they were exhausted.”

But the night before the finals, Tullis and the coaching staff got the players together for a morale-boosting team talk. “We got energised,” he said. “The spirit between the kids is amazing. They have known each other for the last year or so and they have built up something really intense and I think that’s what made the difference.

“The final maybe wasn’t the best level of squash but the difference is the heart between the kids. That’s what we talked about last night. We’re really thrilled to make that happen for France. It’s an incredible result for French squash. We’ve been waiting for this for the last 35 years. We are really thrilled to join the club with Sweden and Germany to be able to beat an English junior team.”

Switzerland won the bronze medal after a 2-1 victory over Czech Republic in which they had to come from behind to secure victory. Karolina Sramkova beat Maja Maziuk in the opening girls’ match, but David Bernet (who missed the semi-final defeat to England due to an ankle) returned to action to defeat Martin Stepan in four. The result came down to Fabian Seitz and Vojtech Martinovsky, which the former won 4-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-9 in 43 minutes.

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