The Men’s World Team Championship is back, after the cancellation of the event in 2015. In a little less than two months, twenty-four countries - representing the five continents - will be battling for glory in Marseille, France. Before detailed presentations of some of the main teams in the following weeks, here is a quick overview.
By Jérôme Elhaïk
It's hard not to label Egypt – who boast 8 players in the world top 15 – as hot favourites for the event. Besides, they have two bad memories to put behind them: their loss in the 2013 final after two titles in a row, as well as the cancellation of the tournament in Cairo two years later. The task of national coach Amr Shabana will be also two-staged. He will initially need to pick four players amongst all these talents. “He’s so experienced and fair,” Ali Farag said to us a few months ago. “I will accept any decision he will make. Like all of us, he wants the best for the country.” As a few other contenders, the Harvard graduate has never featured in the MWTC. Unlike Ramy Ashour, who won it twice and is unbeaten in the event. (see THE HISTORY OF THE MEN'S WORLD TEAM SQUASH CHAMPIONSHIP IN FIGURES). Once this is done, the four-time world champion will have to build a strong team spirit. Although we often see them support and coach each other in individual tournaments, Egyptian players are less used to playing team events compared to other countries.
Marwan El Shorbagy and Ali Farag are among the contenders for a spot in the Egyptian squad (Photo credit: www.pharaohsquash.com)
We obviously refer to France and England, which have clashed in the European Team Championship final for the last 10 years. Nick Matthew recently announced that he would retire from the professional world at the end of the season, and 34-year old James Willstrop and Daryl Selby are closer to the end than the beginning of their career. No doubt that they will do everything it takes to keep the title they clinched four years ago in Mulhouse, while the younger generations are yet to prove they can walk into their footsteps (English number 4 Chris Simpson is currently ranked 35 in the world). “The focus of my training for the last six months has been for this match,” Selby had said right after the final won against Egypt in 2013. We can count on him and his teammates to prepare this year's event with the same mindset.
Daryl Selby, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew will once again be the backbone of the English team (Photo credit: www.squashsite.co.uk)
“When you have in your team the world number 1, who's won most of the big tournaments in 2017, it is hard to aim for anything else but gold,” often repeats Renan Lavigne, France's national coach. If he can reproduce the form he displayed in the first half of the year, Grégory Gaultier will be a huge asset for les Bleus, who won two European titles within the last 3 years. The “French General” will have Grégoire Marche and Mathieu Castagnet by his side , although the latter has been struggling with injuries for the past 18 months. “The most important thing is that we all peak for the event,” according to Marche. In this case, France can dream of a first ever world title, especially with the crowd support: most of the tickets have already been sold.
European champions in 2015 and 2017, can France clinch a first ever world title (Photo credit: Retteri Lepo)
While they hold a record number of 8 world titles, it would be quite an upset to see Australia add one more to their collection. One reason for that is that they will be without David Palmer for the first time in a long time. But with Cameron Pilley and Ryan Cuskelly – consistent members of the world top 20 – the Aussies seem more than capable of featuring in the top 4 once again. And who knows, push out of one the three favourites out of the podium? Last time New Zealand reached the semi-final stage was in 1989. Kiwis can rely on Paul Coll – who rocketed from 30th to 10th in the world in a year – as well as Campbell Grayson. It would be a surprise if Hong Kong did not improve their best result (8th in 2003). With three players ranked between 20th and 35th, they have one of the best strength in depth. Grégory Gaultier himself has put India among the underdogs. Quarter finalists in the last two events, Saurav Ghosal and his teammates will be one team to watch out for, especially if they can maintain their recent form. Let's not forget Germany and Simon Roesner, who have achieved a best ever result of 5th in 2013. Boosted by the rise of Raphael Kandra, can the Mannschaft do even better this time?
Although their respective team can't pretend to win the gold medal, Simon Roesner (in red) and Paul Coll will hope to leave their mark in the MWTC (Photo credit: www.squashmad.com)
TEAMS TO WATCH
"I think we have a good team that is always improving and we will be looking for a top 8 spot in France in December,” Greg Lobban said to us a few weeks ago. The world number 45 has made a magnificent comeback after a serious hamstring injury, and alongside Alan Clyne and Douglas Kempsell they will be a hard team to beat. Spain will certainly be disappointed if they don't better their highest finish (14th in 1989). Borja Golan will be supported by a promising young generation (Pajares, Lopez, Jaume) which will make their debut in the MWTC. We can also mention Malaysia, who lost Ong Beng Hee and Azlan Iskandar but remain a solid team, Finland and their veteran Olli Tuominen, Wales, as well as the United States. The US will be looking to continue their rise on the squash world, before hosting the event for the first time in 2019. What about Pakistan, once the powerhouse of the sport? If there is chemistry between experienced players such as Farhan Mehboob and the younger generation, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Alan Clyne (at the front) and Greg Lobban will try and bring Scotland to the quarter final stage (Photo credit: www.inverness-courier.co.uk)
Sixth in 2009 and 2013, South Africa will struggle to repeat such performance: their number 1 Stephen Coppinger has been away from squash for a few months because of a very unfortunate event (his family and he lost all their belongings due to their removals truck burning down while en route to their new home), and Shaun Le Roux retired from professional squash in 2016. We'll have an eye on Canada and their promising young players. The squash scene will also discover Iraq and Jamaica, who will make their debut in the event.
The Iraqi team will make their debut in the event (Photo credit: Facebook Squash in Iraq)