New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) The India men’s team could not have asked for a better draw on the eve of the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament, beginning at Gondomar (Portugal) on Wednesday.
The fifth-seeded squad, led by the top-ranked Indian G. Sathiyan at No. 30, will straightway take on Luxembourg in the round of 32 – Indians have received a first round bye – when it makes an attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics later this year.
The top eight finishing teams automatically qualify for the Games, while the last spot available will be fought for among the teams that finish runners-up in the round of 16 with the eventual winner filling the slot.
The team, which also comprises of A. Sharath Kamal, Anthony Amalraj, Harmeet Desai and Manav Thakkar, has the best possible draw in the second round as they take on Luxembourg, ranked No. 50 in the world and seeded 32.
Their top-ranked player Eric Glod is ranked No. 209 in the world, Luka Mladenovic (No. 211) and Gilles Michely (No. 401) should be easy opponents for the Indians. However, the two top-most Indian paddlers, Sathiyan and Sharath, along with Harmeet Desai are expected to share the burden in equal measure.
Next up against the Indians will be Slovenia, ranked 15 in the world and seeded No. 11, or Iran, ranked at No. 25 and seeded No. 20.
Slovenia’s top-ranked player is Darko Jorgic at No. 40 while their second-best player Bojan Tokic is ranked at No. 62 with Deni Kozul (No. 104) and Peter Bribar (No. 333) following them. They stand very little chance against the Indians who have had an excellent run in team events in recent times on the international stage.
Noshad Alamiyan is the best bet for Iran, who at world No. 63, will have to shoulder the entire burden of his nation against Slovenia, who have a proven record. Iran do have players like Nima Alamian (No. 107), Hossein Amir Hodaei (No. 157) and Amin Ahmadian (No. 184) but it will be a big task for the Islamic state against the Slovenians.
As for the Indian women’s squad, seeded No. 17, the task is much tougher despite having Manika Batra, the top-ranked Indian in the world at No. 61, as they first run into Sweden, seeded No. 16 and having top-ranked player Matilda Ekholm (No. 35) and Linda Bergstorm (No. 75).
The Indian women’s squad will have to overcome the two while their other players – Filippa Bergand (No. 179) and Christina Kallberg (No. 197) – can be overcome by the Indians, who have the experienced Madhurika Patkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Ayhika Mukherjee and Archana Kamath in their ranks.
Even if the Indians manage to put it across Sweden, ranked No. 22, they would next run into Romania, the fifth seeded squad, and ranked No. 8 in the world. For the record, the Romanians have the best set of players in Bernadette Szocs, who is ranked No. 19 in the world, with adequate help coming from Elizabeta Samara (No. 31), Daniela Dodean (No. 134) and Irina Ciobanu (No. 133).