By Howard Harding
In a dramatic final of the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship in France, second seeds England upset defending champions Egypt, and won the sport’s most prestigious trophy for the fifth time since 1995.
Daryl Selby put the underdogs ahead before world No1 Ramy Ashour evened matters for Egypt, the top seeds bidding to become the first nation since 1987 to win the title three times in a row.
In the decider, world No4 James Willstrop made up for his loss to Karim Darwish at the same stage of the previous final two years ago to beat the world No5 11-3, 11-13, 11-3, 11-5 to clinch the title for England for the first time since 2007.
Thirty one nations competed in the 24th edition of the championship, which was staged in France for the first time in its 46-year history. Play took place at two venues in Mulhouse: the Espace Squash 3000 Centre and the Palais Des Sports. At these venues matches were played simultaneously on three ASB all-glass showcourts.
England made a great start when team number three Selby beat Tarek Momen 11-5, 11-3, 11-7 in his first win over the higher-ranked Egyptian for over three years.
“I am much fitter now than I was,” said Selby when asked to explain the end of his losing run to Momen.
“The focus of my training for the last six months has been for this match,” continued the world No14. “The England team has taken this event extremely seriously. Watching James and Nick last night was an inspiration. The amount of effort they put in was phenomenal. I just wanted to put in the same.”
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better performance… and it’s a great honour to be part of the England team,” added Selby.
Nick Matthew, who prevailed in the event’s longest match when he beat the hosts’ world No2 Gregory Gaultier in a 138-minute semi-final marathon less than 24 hours earlier, was unable to stop world No1 Ramy Ashour from levelling the tie. Ashour extended his unbeaten run in the event over the last six years when he beat Matthew 5-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-9.
But Willstrop was the underdogs’ hero, taking out Darwish in 69 minutes of tense squash to bring the world title back into England hands.
“It doesn’t get much bigger, does it?” said the 29 year-old Yorkshireman as he tried to take in the achievement.
“We’ve worked so hard for this. We’ve had unbelievable support from England Squash back home,” Willstrop continued. “Nick made an amazing contribution last night… We’ve got a great rivalry with the Egyptians, and Ramy has had a lot of success, so it’s lovely when all the work pays off.”
England national coach Chris Robertson was delighted with his team’s success. “It’s good to win something you deserve to win, and I think we deserved to win this title tonight,” he said, adding, “I hope this will inspire some of the younger players back home… as we look forward to next year’s Commonwealth Games.”
Earlier , to the delight of the packed crowd at the Palais des Sports, hosts France won the bronze medal play-off battle against Australia, the third seeds beating the fourth-seeded former champions 2-0.
Squad number three Mathieu Castagnet survived a tense and close encounter against Ryan Cuskelly, twice coming from behind to beat the Aussie left-hander 8-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6. Showing few signs of the marathon encounter less than 24 hours earlier against England No1 Matthew ,after which he was barely able to walk, Gregory Gaultier put in a composed performance to overcome world No13 Cameron Pilley 11-9, 11-4, 11-4.
Team coach Renan Lavigne admitted that a team effort, involving the team physician, his staff and all the players, helped lift Gaultier after his energy-sapping semi. “He said to me this morning ‘I want to play’,” said Lavigne.
Sixth seeds Germany beat South Africa 2-0 to win the play-off for fifth place, recording their highest-ever finish. “It was a fantastic performance by my team,” said German team manager Oliver Pettke. “It’s unbelievable to be fifth in the world. We had a lot of German support here, which was great, and I am sure our success will give squash a big push back home.”
India also celebrated its best finish since 1979, bettering its seeding by beating Malaysia 2/0 in the play-off for seventh place. Mahesh Mangaonkar beat Muhd Asyraf Azan 14-12, 11-4, 11-7 before Indian No1 Saurav Ghosal recovered from two games down to defeat seasoned opponent Ong Beng Hee 6-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.
“It was a great effort today by Saurav and Mahesh, it’s so tough playing on the last day,” said India coach Cyrus Poncha. “I’m pleased with the results and confident that we will keep improving our rankings in the years to come. Most of all, I’m happy finishing as the highest Asian nation.”
Ghosal added: “It’s been a tough week, but I think we all played well and are pleased to finish today with a win. This is the toughest tournament in the world since, especially in my position as the number one, you play top players every day. It’s relentless! But we have a young team, so can look forward to doing even better next time.” But arguably the most notable success was achieved by Scotland, the 16th seeds, who won the playoff for 9th place after beating Pakistan 2-1.
“We achieved this after only losing out only to the event’s top two seeds Egypt and England, who went on to contest the final,” said Scottish coach Roger Flynn. “I’m a very proud man at the moment.”