Agony turned into ecstasy for Scotland today as they recorded a 3-2 victory over favourites Spain in the qualification stages of the European Mixed Team Championships in Portugal.
Having already beaten Portugal, Ukraine and Latvia this week, today’s result sent Scotland to the top of Group 6, guaranteeing qualification to the eight-country showdown in the European Mixed Team finals which will be held in Finland in February.
And although the whole squad played a part in Scotland’s qualification campaign this week it was the women’s doubles pairing of Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance who were the heroes for Scotland today, snatching a fighting chance of victory from the jaws of defeat in the fourth match of the tie.
For the fourth time in three days the Scots got off to a good start, with MacPherson and Adam Hall beating Pablo Abian and Lorena USLe 21-10 21-13 to maintain their 100% mixed doubles record this week.
And with women’s singles the second match to be played, Scotland had a golden opportunity to double the lead and take a real stranglehold on the match.
But in perhaps the biggest upset of the week Kirsty Gilmour couldn’t press home Scotland’s advantage, losing the first game 21-18 to Clara Azurmendi before withdrawing due to injury with the score level at 4-4 in the second.
Instead of potentially being on the brink of victory Scotland were suddenly level at 1-1 and Pablo Abian wasted no time in using the men’s singles to put Spain in control.
The highly experienced Spaniard beat Ciar Pringle 21-9 21-16 and when Azurmendi returned to the court with Beatriz Corrales to win the first set in the women’s doubles, Scotland were staring down the barrel of defeat.
But MacPherson and Ciara Torrance are made of strong stuff and refused to go down without a fight.
They took control of the second set early, winning it 21-15 to take the match into a decider which was nip and tuck throughout.
At 17-17 the Scots took control to hold two match points at 20-18, only for the Spaniards to hit back and hold a match-point of their own at 21-20.
But MacPherson and Torrance refused to be beaten, winning three points in a row to take the set 23-21 and level the overall score line at 2-2.
From there it was one-way traffic as Hall and Chris Grimley dominated the men’s doubles, beating Luis Enrique Penalver and Alberto Zapico 21-8 21-5 to send Scotland top of the Group and claim qualification for the finals.
One of the notable features of the current squad is the outstanding team spirit on display and speaking afterwards Torrance paid tribute to that: “After the match we all said how well we had supported each other, throughout the whole week.
“I think we are a really close-knit team and having that support at really tight points can be the difference, knowing you have the belief of your teammates behind you.”
That support was vociferously apparent throughout today’s pivotal women’s doubles and Torrance continued: “We’re very pleased with how we managed to push through that match.
“When you’re in that situation there’s a lot of pressure on you and when they came back and went up to 21-20 in the last set it was really nerve-wracking, knowing that they were on the verge of winning.
“But we had to just stay focused and treat it like it was any other point in the game, not the deciding point.”
MacPherson continued: “We’re very pleased. We knew coming into this week that we would be playing against some good teams. Spain were the seeded team so we thought they would be the hardest and they definitely were.
“We got off to a good start in the mixed and when Kirsty went on we thought we had a good chance of winning, but unfortunately she hurt her ankle so that was a big blow to the team.
“But me and Ciara tried not to think about that. We were just trying to focus on ourselves and the job we had to go and do.
“We’re just very glad we could get the win in that doubles. There was some pressure as we knew we had to win it, with them being up 2-1.
“And then the boys finished it off well in the men’s doubles.”
The final of the European Mixed Team Championships will be held in Finland from 16-20 February 2021.
Full results are at www.tournamentsoftware.com