The Men's World Team Championship will start in ten days. Yesterday, the World Squash Federation announced the pool line-ups. Unsurprisingly, Egypt are seeded 1, followed by titleholders England, France and Australia. Here is a review of the match-ups.
By Jérôme Elhaïk
For the seventh consecutive time, the sport's four dominant countries (Egypt, England – whose paths cannot cross before the final – France and Australia) are seeded 1 to 4 in this order for the MWTC. The last time another team crashed into the semis was in 2005 in Pakistan: Jonathon Power and Canada had ousted the “Aussies” in the quarterfinal stage. The first stage will consist in three pools of eight teams, the top two progressing to the last 16 knockout stage, while the third-placed teams will play for positions 17-24. Here is a quick review of the pools.
Pool A:  EGYPT,  SWITZERLAND,  PAKISTAN
Boasting four players among the world top 11, Egypt should easily top their pool. The two other teams will go head-to-head for the second spot to the round of 16. On paper, Nicolas Mueller and Switzerland – welcoming back Reiko Peter, who missed the whole of 2016-2017 due to injury – seem to have a slight edge over Pakistan, who will be without a few of its higher ranked players, including number 1 Farhan Mehboob. It will be the first ever meeting between these two countries.
Pool B:  ENGLAND,  FINLAND,  ARGENTINA
England are obviously huge favourites in pool B. Like in pool A, the second spot should be hard fought between two countries who have never played each other: Finland and their veteran Olli Tuominen, who also feature the Aijanen brothers (20 and 21 years of age) and Argentina, whose players barring number 1 Leandro Romiglio don't often play on the PSA World Tour.
Unless they are rested for the England v Finland tie, there could be a match between the two veterans of the world tour, Nick Matthew and Olli Tuominen (Photo credit: www.squash999.com)
Pool C:  FRANCE,  CANADA,  IRELAND
Behind France, who should top pool C, Canada – with four players in the world top 100, including seasoned campaigner Shawn De Lierre – will be expected to finish second. But Ireland also have some very experienced players, such as Brian Byrne and especially Arthur Gaskin, who's played in the MWTC since 2005.
Pool D:  AUSTRALIA,  WALES,  CZECH REPUBLIC
Australia are obvious favourites to top pool D, but they will surely be wary of Wales (the two teams were already in the same pool in 2009). Led by fast-improving Joel Makin (23 years old), the Welsh team won the European Team Championship Division 2 last spring. All the Czech players are outside the world top 100 but their rankings do not reflect their actual level: they are a young and improving team, with players capable of pulling a big result on their day. Such as left hander Daniel Mekbib, who beat Olli Tuominen in the last ETC.
Joel Makin (in red) and Wales will be looking to create an upset against Australia and Cameron Pilley (Photo credit: www.dailyexaminer.com.au)
Pool E:  HONG KONG CHINA,  SPAIN,  IRAQ
Hong Kong is the only team besides the top 3 (Egypt, England and France) to boast three players in the world top 30. To beat them, Spain will count on his long-term leader Borja Golan, while hoping at least one of his teammates pulls a big upset. For example youngster Iker Pajares, who's climbed up the rankings in the last few months and beat Chris Simpson in Hong Kong last weekend. As far as previous meetings go, Hong Kong beat Spain in 2007 and 2009. Featuring for the first time in the MWTC, Iraq will try and gain some experience.
Pool F:  NEW ZEALAND,  USA,  SOUTH AFRICA
For the first time since 1993, New Zealand will arrive in the MWTC with a top 10 player in their squad. No doubt that rising star Paul Coll, supported by Campbell Grayson, will be eager to make up for two disappointing campaigns in 2011 and 2013 (22nd and 15th). But they won't take the USA - whom they'll meet for the ninth time in the event, 8-1 to NZ in the H2H – lightly. Like their Canadian neighbors, the Americans have a solid team with four players ranked between 51 and 83, Chris Gordon being the only one left from four years ago. South Africa have lost their two top players - Stephen Coppinger and Shaun Le Roux, both recently retired from the tour. Ironically they have called up even older players to replace them: Gary Wheadon (36 years old) and former world number 23 Rodney Durbach (45 years old)! Although they are not expected to do as well as in 2013 (6th), we'll have a curious eye on their results.
Pool G:  GERMANY,  SCOTLAND,  JAMAICA
Germany v Scotland may be the most anticipated tie of the pool stage. For the last six years, the two countries have fiercely battled for the bronze medal at the European Team Championship. Alan Clyne and his teammates had finally beaten their rivals in 2016, but Germany took their revenge last spring, with a a 6-point difference! The squads will be exactly the same, including players who have been in excellent form since the beginning of the season (Roesner, Kandra, Clyne and Lobban). Like Iraq, it will also be the first participation for Jamaica, but players such as Chris Binnie and Lewis Walters are more experienced at the international level.
Scottish number 1 Alan Clyne (on the left) and his German counterpart Simon Roesner have played against each other in team events since the juniors and it will be the case again in Marseille (Photo credit: Retteri Lepo)
Pool H:  INDIA,  MALAYSIA,  AUSTRIA
The India v Malaysia clash should be another one worth watching. Since their encounter in the 7th/8th playoff match in 2013 – won by the Indians – they have met twice in the Asian Team Championship (one victory each). India will be favourites, its two best players Ghosal and Sandhu having been in great form lately, while Malaysia substantially renewed their team since the last event. They will hope that talented youngsters Kamal and Ng bring their enthusiasm. Austria, whose number 1 Aqeel Rehman is the only member to play on the PSA World Tour on a regular basis, would cause a big upset if they made the knockout stage.
There will be one match per pool every day between the 27th and 29th of November. The order of matches will be the same in all pools: Team 1 v Team 3, Team 1 v Team 2, Team 2 v Team 3. If they qualify, the teams seeded 1 to 8 will therefore have a rest day before the start of the knockout stage on Thursday.