Posted on 13th February 2023
By RJ Mitchell
BOB BLAIR believes that the 2023 European Mixed Team Championships can provide “a very exciting week” for Team Scotland.
The Scots have been drawn in Group A in Aire-sur-la-Lys alongside defending champions Denmark, Ukraine, and England, with the latter providing the Scots opening opposition tomorrow morning.
A strong squad, including Scottish No.1 women’s singles ace Kirsty Gilmour who has recovered from a back injury, has made the trip to France and Blair reckons that if we can produce our best form we have the quality to go deep in the Pas-de-Calais.
In Finland two years back, the Scots finished a creditable fifth and after they booked their tickets to France by successfully negotiating the qualifiers at Scotstoun in December to see off the Czech Republic, Sweden and Luxembourg, hopes are high for the 27th edition of the championships.
The Scotland coach said: “It is very positive we can get into the top-eight in Europe but our potential is to do much better than that, so if everyone can play to their best this can be a very exciting week.
“I think that for all the teams within the UK it is nice to have the opportunity to play the Europeans as we don’t get many team events to play in with badminton being such an individual sport. So this is one of the main opportunities we get to come together and test our strengths against the other European nations and that is something we relish.
“We know that some countries can produce one or two very strong players but this is a tournament which really shows up your depth and quality across the five disciplines and so for us it really gives us a gauge of where we are across the board and I think we are in a good place in that respect.”
Turning his attention to tomorrow’s clash with the ‘Auld Enemy’ Blair admits there will be extra motivation on both sides of the net to get off to a winning start and he said: “I think that in any sport when you have Scotland against England there is that aspect of rivalry because we are neighbours but with Badminton you have a GB Team and people train together so perhaps it is a bit different.
“That said everyone will be dying to win and no one wants to lose one of these matches. I think across the board they are all quite close games with England being slight favourites in the men’s singles and us in the women’s singles.
“The women’s singles is the same as the men’s in that there are two or three players who are of a similar standard in the English rankings and again it is tough to say who Kirsty will face but she will be a firm favourite.
“The injury which caused her to miss the nationals wasn’t a major issue and it was more of a precaution that she missed the Scottish. So, as far as I am aware the injury was relatively minor but one we didn’t want to risk making worse by playing at Scotstoun.
“Looking at the three doubles ties then I would say there is not a lot in it. I think there are a lot of games that will potentially hinge on who will turn up on the day. Certainly with the doubles it is going to be very competitive across the three events.”
Scotland will face reigning champions Denmark on Wednesday before concluding their Group A campaign against Ukraine on Thursday.
While Denmark are among the favourites for the title once again Scotland can take huge encouragement from their meeting with the Danes in the 2021 championships when the Scots were pipped 3-2 in Finland’s Energia Areena.
The tie hinged on an epic women’s doubles tie which Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance lost 21-15 in the third set to Maiken Fruergaard and Freja Ravn after Adam Hall and Julie combined to win their mixed doubles tie and Chris Grimley and Adam Hall triumphed in the men’s doubles.
As he reflected on all of this Blair admitted: “All the group matches can go either way as you get some strange results in these group phases in any sport.
“That said Denmark will be favourites and you would have to say that across the board they are very strong in all disciplines and you would expect that from the defending champions.
“But we will come out fighting whoever we play and last time we met them we pushed them really hard which is something we can take encouragement from.
“So I would say there are chances there and it will be about trying to win every game we have an opportunity in.”
The Scots go into this week’s action with an intensive period of competitive action behind them which included trips to Malaysia and India and culminated in last weekend’s Scottish nationals at Scotstoun.
All of which means there is no danger of an under-cooked campaign and the former men’s doubles World Championship runner-up concluded: “It was great to have had top level competition over the two tournaments in Malaysia and India and that has meant the players are not going into this week lacking top level competition as they certainly got that in Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi.
“So that has given us a good build-up and a solid platform for the Europeans and that is all very positive. Now it will be all about producing our best performances when it matters most.”