Scotland's top players, Alan Clyne and Greg Lobban, were rewarded with a day off at the European Team Championships in Italy yesterday after both produced career-best performances which guaranteed Scotland a semi-final place.
Clyne had lost his opening game 11-5, but recovered to reel off the next three to beat world No.5 Borja Golan. Chris Small and Lobban followed up with battling victories in five games to wrap up a crucial 3-1 win over Spain.
It was then Lobban's turn to overturn the odds in the meeting with eighth seeds Finland as the world No.75 beat Henrik Mustonen, who is ranked 38 places above him, in the final rubber. Dougie Kempsell and Kevin Moran had earlier won their matches in straight games.
Loading article content
"That was a superb performance. We had the toughest schedule of any team on the opening day," said Roger Flynn, the team's head coach. "Alan played all over the world No.5 and, after a tough five-setter in the morning, it was a great physical and mental effort by Greg to beat such a quality opponent and an excellent team effort overall."
Flynn was delighted with the way the team have consolidated the work done in the past two years by guaranteeing at least a fourth-place finish for a third successive time. His task is consequently to maximise their chances of claiming a first podium finish since 1999 when Scotland finished runners-up to England.
His side know exactly what they are up against as their schedule has followed a very similar path to both 2012 and '13, when they found themselves in the same pool as a dominant England side who have won the title in each of the last 21 years. That was followed by a semi-final meeting with France, winners of the other pool and tournament runners-up in 13 of the last 14 years.
Led by the world No.1 Gregory Gaultier, the French have once again secured top spot in the other pool and will be heavy favourites to beat the Scots, while England are certain to win against Germany.
"We need to make sure we give ourselves our best chance," Flynn said in explaining the decision to rest Clyne and Lobban for yesterday's meeting with England.
The semi-finals take place in Riccione today with the final and third place play-off tomorrow.