There are a number of divisions at EBUC 2019 where the pre-tournament favourites are doing well. The British grandmasters, the French mixed masters, the Swedish men’s masters, these teams were all tipped for glory and are so far on that path. The mixed division, though, was the closest to call ahead of the games beginning. The Germans came in favourites given their bronze medal at WCBU 2017 but teams from across Europe looked good too. We are now down to the final four in this division and have already lost some great teams – France looked like contenders, and Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic all fought their way into the top eight. Let’s have a quick review of what’s happened with each of the semi-finalists so far, with the favourites up first.
The Russians came into the tournament looking like a force to be reckoned with. They added several of the women who won a gold medal in Royan, including key handler Sasha Pustovaia, and brought back many of the talented men from WCBU as well. Since the tournament started, their offence has looked almost untouchable. Pustovaia’s metronomic reliability has keyed their success in every matchup, and they are able to create mismatches all over the field whenever they need to. So far, they’re undefeated with a close 9-7 win over Germany their most difficult test. They face Great Britain tomorrow, who they defeated 13-6 earlier today, and will look to continue this form for just two more games so that the star female additions can add European gold to their Worlds medals.
The pre-tournament favourites in most eyes, the Germans have been very good indeed. They have defeated most teams handily, but could only beat Great Britain on universe point and lost to Russia. They have a very balanced team and with two of the elite options in the division, Levke Walczak and Rob Schumacher, can play through their stars if needed. The loss of Nici Prien to illness ahead of the tournament is a hammer blow given the enormous effect she can have on both sides of the disc, but this team is still good enough to cause problems to the very best opponents. They face Portugal, a team they crushed 13-4 this morning, in the semi-final. While that win will undoubtedly give them confidence, facing the home team in a highly-pressured match is sure to add an extra element to their semi-final.
GB had lost two games prior to today; to France and to Germany, both on universe point. This morning, though, they struggled enormously to contain Russia. They have an extremely athletic, balanced team with a number of players in double figures for stats but no-one over 20. When things get tight and difficult they have the abilities of two Clapham players to lean on; Will Rowledge and Connor McHale do a lot of heavy lifting in the most important, high-leverage moments. The depth of their female players is another strength, and they’ll feel confident that if they play to their ceiling they can give anyone a game. They need to find solutions to the Russian offence in order to progress in the tournament, something they were unable to do in a 13-6 loss, but with more time to think about things and formulate plans they could drag themselves into contention yet.
They have had a very up-and-down tournament, with losses to Great Britain and Germany and a heavy defeat by Russia in the books. Losing against the other three semi-finalists is not ideal preparation for the later stages of the tournament and means they’re probably the underdogs here but they do have two things they can be confident in; they’re at home, and their top three can compete with anyone. The effects of a home crowd could have a galvanising effect and push them on to new heights in the crucible that will be the semi-finals, and the trio of Ricardo Patrao, Ines Bringel and Pedro Vargas are good enough to get free whenever they want, make all the throws in the book and get blocks when they’re really needed. Bringel, in particular, seems like she’s almost impossible to cover when she turns it on. How they deal with the Germans will be intriguing – a possible Bringel and Walczak matchup is tantalising.
Ultimately, the likeliest final is a rematch of the Russia vs Germany game. Both teams had the upper hand on their semi-final opponents when those games were played earlier this week and will feel confident that they can repeat the trick under more pressure. The way that Portugal and GB have been able to lift their game, though, suggests that neither favourite will have it quite so easy as they did in their first encounters.
The semi-finals are tomorrow morning at 09:40, with GB vs Russia on the stream. Tune in for the action, and check back here later tomorrow for a full summary of the non-streamed game between Germany and Portugal!
Cover photo taken by Verena Bruchlacher