Posted on 21st December 2022
By RJ Mitchell
ROBERT BLAIR has confirmed his belief that Scotland have the quality to target a medal when they head for France in 2023 to compete in the European Mixed Team Championships.
Last time around the Scots finished a creditable fifth in Finland but after watching his charges emerge unscathed from a potentially tricky qualifying competition in Scotstoun over the weekend, the Scotland coach reckons that even as underdogs we are an increasingly dangerous proposition to heavyweights like European champions Denmark, France, and Germany.
A former men’s doubles World Championship runner-up back in 2006, Robert reckons the way the team negotiated potential banana skin ties against the Czech Republic and Sweden have provided renewed proof that Scotland are maturing into a force to be reckoned with.
The 41-year-old shared court-side coaching duties with coaching colleagues Ingo Kindervater and David Gilmour over the weekend and admitted he had been wowed by the atmosphere as international team badminton returned to Scotstoun for the first time since the Sudirman Cup back in 2007.
The Scotland coach said: “Certainly we have a strong enough team on paper to challenge for a medal. Yes there are stronger teams out there when you look at them but we would go into these matches where we are 50/50 or slight underdogs and we are now very strong in four events in Europe and even in the World.
“So we do have a capability in these matches where we are not favourites to overcome all of that if we bring out our best and bring out that dominant, controlling side into our matches we will be a tough proposition for any side at the finals.
“We saw that at the Europeans in getting two silvers that we can beat some of the best players and our players are now starting to believe in their ability more and more to produce these type of results.
“Also before we get to France next year we have more development and progress to be made and that will be important.”
Taking stock of the EMTC23 Group 4 qualification campaign Robert has little doubt that there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful: “It has been a great success for us as there were a few potentially tricky match ups like the Czech Republic on Saturday and of course Sweden in the play-off match and ultimately we managed to come through them quite comfortably” he said.
The former Olympian continued: “Although we should have been winning these matches I felt like the players really went out there and took ownership of their games and produced commanding performances that gave no chance to the opposition to make in-roads.
“Against Sweden we had a tight mixed game to open the tie that could have made things a bit awkward but Adam (Hall) and Julie (MacPherson) did really well to come through that in straight games.
“Really we have players now who have had a few years to grow into themselves on the international stage and they are more than capable of dealing with the fact they are favourites but still going out there and stamping their authority on things.
“We have had wins against some of the top teams and top players in the recent past and it is about using all that in the matches you should be winning to get through the sticky patches and we did that over the weekend very well.”
When it came to Robert’s Scotstoun highlight reel, not surprisingly for a men’s doubles world championship runner-up, he plumped for Alex Dunn and Adam Hall’s impressive 21-12, 21-11 victory over Joel Hansson and Melker Z-Bexell, which guaranteed safe passage against the Swedes and spared Scotland a fraught deciding winner takes it all women’s doubles encounter.
The former World No.4 men’s doubles ace said: “It is tough to pick out a highlight as I felt everyone really contributed to a very solid team showing over all three matches but against Sweden I felt that the men’s doubles had the possibility to be really tight and if we lose that the tie is 2-2 and we are going to the wire.
“No one wants to be going into a deciding match with nerves and emotion all playing a big part but Alex and Adam did a great job in steering us home in straight games and a big thanks to them for making our lives all a bit easier.
“Standing watching on the side-lines is never easy and if it had gone to a decider it would have been very tense no doubt.”
With the atmosphere at Scotstoun, particularly at the Sunday finale against Sweden, at times resembling a Davis Cup tie Blair admitted his delight at the way players and fans connected to help us book our tickets for Aire-sur-la-Lys in the New Year.
He said: “It was nice to play in that type of atmosphere and I must also mention Sweden who contributed a lot to that and not just against us but over the whole week.
“In a sport like badminton when there is not too much of the top level play on show in Scotland and our players are all over Europe competing it’s always nice to come home and show our own folk what we can do.
“But it is just having the opportunity to do something like this and I’m really pleased the players took that opportunity and also that the fans engaged with them and produced a pretty memorable atmosphere and day at Scotstoun on Sunday to help us qualify for France next year.”
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