THE LAHLUM CURLING ROUND REPORT 2
First pass: Men´s Group A round 2
The Men´s A Group had a rather dramatic first round Saturday afternoon, with several unexpected winners. This trend continued in the second round Sunday morning, and most of the favourites have had a demanding start. The big exception however is Scotland, appearing rock solid so far after defeating Finland 6–2 today. The first end had a fairly normal 1–0 win for Scotland, as they started with the last stone advantage. The situation however turned critical for Finland as their skip failed on a take out during the second end, allowing Scotland to steal a point. Following an open 0–0 in the third, the Scottish success continued during a complex fourth end, in which twelve stones were in play before Finland´s final stone. That stone again missed the intended target, allowing Scotland to steal two more points and reach a 4–0 lead. Finland finally got a score in the fifth end, but one point in this situation was too little and too late. Continuing their efficient play almost without mistakes, Scotland used the hammer to win 2–0 in the sixth end. After winning 1–0 in the eight end, Finland felt such a reliefe they they immediately resigned the match.
Photo: Celine Stucki/WCF
The only other two teams to play against each other in the second round after winning in the first were Norway and Italy. The home team again was often involved in complex strategical battles with many stones in play, and again had the longest match of the round. Much to the satisfaction of the home crowd, Team Walstad again also won their match. This second win however also came following a tense struggle in which the outcome was open until the final stones. Again lucky to start up with the hammer, Norway won 2–0 in the first end. Although Italy succeeded to equlize the score in the second end, Norway following an accurate take out in the third end again reached a two point lead. While Walstad continued his strong play, the Italian colleague blundered on his last stone in the fourth end – allowing Norway to steal a point and reach a very promising 5–2 lead. Although Italy made a solid draw to win back one point in the fifth end, Norway at 5–3 and still armed with the hammer had a close to winning advantage in the match midway.
Photo: Celine Stucki/WCF
Again Team Walstad however had a down during rounds 6–8. Using their chances very well at this stage, Italy was able first to steal a point in the sixth and then to equalize the score at 6–6 after winning two points in the eight end. In a very strategic match Norway however hit back back with the hammer in the ninth end, and Walstad gave Norway an 8–6 lead by a very accurate last stone. Italy´s challenge to win with two points in the last end became even more challening as they ran short of time, and in the end had only two minutes left for the skip´s final stones. A few minutes ahead on the clock too, the Norwegian team continued their strong positional play, and proved able to establish a best stone sufficiently hidden behind guards and enemy stones. Italy´s last stone, released with 17 seconds left on the clock, was a hard take out which failed in a very difficult position – meaning Norway stole another point and confirmed a confident 9–6 victory.
The first two rounds of course have been a great success for the home team, winning two key matches against other teams expected to candidate for the semi finals. Not wanting to disturb the very good atmosphere and hopeful optimism among other present Norwegian, I still feel this round report should not forget to mention that 1) there are still seven rounds left before the semi finals and 2) Team Walstad actually had an even more promising start in the World Championship this year, but in the bitter end still failed to reach the semi finals.
Switzerland on the other hand was a team many expers considered more or less given in the semi finals before round one, which is already lagging far behind after the second. The experienced Suisse team still appeared to be shaking after the lost match from yesterday, while their opponents from the Czech Republic again made very efficient use of their chances. In another very strategic match with many heavyweight struggles, the Czech team succeeded to win 2–0 in both their first attempts with the hammer, and so came up 4–1 after the first three ends. Switzerland failed to make use of the hammer in end four and five, and under pressure in the sixth end they were forced to accept a 1–0 win. Following this the Czech Republic team had a 4–2 lead. After 1–0 for the hammer team in the seventh and eight end, Czech became more passive in their approach and made the finish more exciting than neccessary by failing their last stone in the ninth end. By stealing a point the Suisse team narrowed the score down to 4–5. The Czech team for sure felt some pressure, although they were still in a winning position with a lead and the hammer for the final end. Czech Republic succeeded to keep the position open and to get rid of enough Suisse stones in the final minutes of the match, and in the end could win 6–4 by a draw shot into an open house center. Czech Republic sharing the lead with Scotland and Norway in this A group probably qualifies as a sensation, while Switzerland having lost both their first matches definitely is a sensation. It will be exciting to find out what will happen next to both teams.
Today´s Scandinavian duel between Denmark and Sweden in the end got an expected winner, but still this also was an exciting match in which the outcome was not given five minutes before the end. Denmark made a much better start today, losing only 0–1 in the first end and then winning 2–0 following a nice take out in the second. Sweden took back the lead after winning 2–0 in the third. I expected it to be a more or less final goodbye to this match when Danmark missed a take out at the final stone in the fourth end – after which the Swedish favourites could steal a point and reach a 4–2 lead. Denmark´s skip however made the last stone and narrowed the score to 3–4 in the fifth end. Then he equalized by stealing a point in the fourth end, after the legendary Swedish skip Niklas Edin missed his final stone.
Sweden won 1–0 with the hammer in the seventh end, but Denmark again equalized in the eight. The Swedes following this had «only» the big advantage of the hammer before the two final rounds. Once more Niklas Edin however switched on his maximum capacity when feeling the heat. Following a less successful handling of their final stones in the ninth end, Denmark resigned after losing that end by a margin of four points. Although the final score of 9–5 might look relaxing, this match was much more exciting than expected. Denmark definitely improved a lot following their stumbling start in round one, while the Swedish gold favourites still are playing below their usual level. Being compared with the maximum level of team Niklas Edin all of the time of course is demanding, even if you happen to be a member of the team yourselves.
Germany also improved their start a lot in between round one and round two, and today reached a promising 3–0 lead after the first two ends against the Netherlands. The Germans later efficiently defended their lead through a rather fast match with many open positions. After the Netherlands just succeeded to win 1–0 in the third end, the Germans exchanged off all the stones in the fourth and fifth, and then increased their lead to 4–1 in the sixth. The match more or less was decided as the Dutch team missed their draw shot on the hammer stone in the seventh end, meaning Germany stole one point and increased their advance to 5–1. The Netherlands finally succeeded to narrow the margins a little in the eight and ninth end. The Germans still had the tenth end all under control with a 5–3 lead and the hammer – forcing Netherlands to resign as they ran out of stones. Germany looked much more confident today and found a place in the midfield of this A group, while the Netherlands have had a very difficult start.
Second pass: Women´s Group A round 3
The favourites had a hard time also in this group. Sweden versus Scotland was a very important duel between two curling giants. Sweden would have been the obvious favourite two days ago, but now Scotland in the meantime had won both their matches and demonstrated the better play in both the first round. Both teams had support from a notable crowd on the tribunes. The first third of the match definitely qualified as a success from a Swedish point of view. Sweden started up with the hammer and came ahead 4–1 after Anna Hasselgård delivered great take outs in both the first and third end. The tide however turned as Scotland headed by Eve Muirhead first narrowed the lead by a nice draw shot in the fourth end, and then equalized by stealing a point after Hasselgård played her draw shot too short in the fifth. Hasselgård then lost the touch and allowed Scotland to move ahead by stealing a point in the sixth and seventh end too. For one very rare occasion, team Hasselgård following this lost four ends in a row – dropping from 4–1 to 4–6 on the scoreboard. The three remaining ends all were tense strategical struggles with a lot of stones in play and a lot on plans and moves to discuss. Both teams played with joyful enthusiasm and had only about 20 seconds left on the clock after the match.
Photo: Celine Stucki/WCF
As both the eight and ninth end after all gave an expected 1–0 win for the team with the last stone, Sweden after the ninth end were down 5–7 and (according to basic mathematics) needed to win at least 2–0 in the tenth. This proved impossible as Muirhead and her team continued their strong and logical play in the tenth round, which developed into a strategical mess with all the first twelve stones in play. Scotland efficiently closed the position off with one more guard on the final stone, and stealing one more point they reached a final score of 8–5. In short the duel between two legendary skips was decisive in this match: Hasselgård dominated in the first three ends, but as Muirhead dominated the rest Scotland of course won very well deserved. Having won all their first three matches against very strong opponents, Scotland already seems more or less certain on the list for the semi finals. Sweden on the other hand have already lost two matches. With strong opponents like Germany and Switzerland left, team Hasselgård now must focus upon reaching the semi finals.
Talking about Germany and Switzerland, they played against each other in a match that was postponed for one hour due to technical problems (related to the ice, not to the teams). Those spectators leaving before the match finished lost not only an importanct decision but also a classical curling drama. The start true enough was a bit careful and dry: The scoreboard had 1–0 in favour of Switzerland after the second end, 1–1 after the third and 2–1 in favour of Switzerland after the fourth (and fifth). The match then suddenly accelerated in a complex sixth end, in which 13 stones at one stage were in play at the same time. Germany succeeded to win 2–0 and took over the lead in the match. This was reversed in the seventh end as the Germans missed a very important take out, leaving the field open for Swizerland to win three points and reach 5–3 lead. Germany was under pressure in the eight end too and had to accept a 1–0 win.
Swizerland following this before the two final ends were up 5–4 and had the hammer, which combined of course should be sufficient to win the match for such a strong and experienced team. The Germans however fought on bravely and were rewarded as Swizerland blundered the vital and final draw shot of the ninth end, allowing Germany to steal a point and equalize the score at 5–5. The heat following this was on both teams before this much delayed tenth end, in which Switzerland still had the upper hand due to the hammer. The German skip, 39 year old Daniela Jentsch, did her best with an accurate take out. Switzerland still had one stone left. Additionally, they had an open line in between two guards – to pass the German best stone and decide the match. It was a classical and magical curling moment. All the remaining spectators were looking upon the Word Champion, 31 year old Alina Pätz, as she made the final draw shot of the match. From my place at the tribune I first wondered whether it was hard enough, but soon noted that the Swiss players did not sweep. I and most other spectators soon realized that the question was whether the stone was too hard. It passed safely and slowly in between the guards, but then it also passed the German stone in the center house – and continued too far behind it. Germany sensationally succeeded to steal a point from Switzerland in the ninth and tenth end, winning the match with 6–5. Consequently they are now sharing the first place in the tournament with Scotland, one point ahead of the World Champions from Swizerland.
Estonia versus Italy was another exciting and rapidly changing match decided only by the final stone of the tenth end. Italy were the favourites and won the first end by 2–0 following a nice draw shot. Estonia however equalized the score in the second end. Then they stole one point in the third as well as the fourth, as Italy had a hard time to handle their last stones accurate enough. Down 2–4, Italy decided to keep the hammer instead of narrowing the score to 3–4 in the fifth end. This paid off as Estonia in turn was inaccurate with their last stone in the sixth end, allowing Italy to equalize the match at 4–4 with a gifted draw shot. Estonia was back in the lead at 5–4 after the seventh end and had a pressure during the eight, but Italy´s skip saved the team with a accurate last stone. At 5–5 with two ends left, the hammer gave Estonia a promising edge. That a promising edge still is not a safe edge in curling was demonstrated in this ninth end, as Estonia after wasting a promising position also failed on the last stone – opening the door for Italy to steal a point. This left a classical and double edged scenario before the last end: Italy was now one point up, while Estonia still had the hammer advantage. Italy in this situation obviously would be well satisfied to lose the tenth end 0–1 and play the eleventh with the hammer advantage, hence the pressure was on Estonia to reach a 2–0 win. This failed completely as Italy found both the better plan and the better use of it.
From a statistical point of view Estonia lost this match due to a last stone mistake, following this losing the last end 0–4 and the match 5–9. In reality I think it was a very tight match in which Estonia most of the time had the slightly better chances to win, but wasted them by inferior play in the final two ends. The young Italian players were understandably very happy and reliefed to win this match, and having won two out of the first three matches they hang on the fight for top four. The Estonian players although behaving great after the game of course were very disappointed to lose this match, but are struggling to complete their matches. Estonia played strong enough for this A group in the first tree ends of round one, the first five ends of round two and the first eight ends of round three. That qualifies as progress and this was their best match so far, but it remains to test out whether they can fulfill ten ends for the upcoming matches.
Probably still in an inspired mood following their great win against Sweden yesterday, Russia today was up 4–0 after the first four ends against Denmark. Starting with the hammer advantage, the Russian wisely preferred 0–0 to 1–0 in the first round, as they went on to win 2–0 with the last stone on the second end and 1–0 without the last stone in both the third and fourth end. Denmark finally got a score following a strong last stone in the fifth end, and went on to steal a point in the sixth. As the Russians were up 4–2 with the hammer after six ends, there was still not much of a hope to save the match for our Danish neighbours. The next two ends both were sound 1–0 wins for the team with the last stone. Up 5–3 with only two ends left, the Russians again went for the open and/or eliminate strategy. As an all the more desperate Danish search for counterplay resulted only in another 0–2 loss, they resigned before the start of the tenth end at 2–7.
Czech Republic versus Turkey was a more balanced match, although the Czech team were ahead almost all of the time and won well deserved in the end. Turkey had the hammer and won the first end 1–0, but that was to be be their first and last lead in the match. Following a tense 0–0 in the second end, Czech Republic fulfilled a promising position to win 3–0 in the third end. Turkey hit back and equalised the scoreboard by 2–0 in the fourth end, but Czech Republic in turn made efficient use of the hammer and was ahead 5–3 midway in the match. After a sound one point win for the hammer team in the sixth and seventh end, the match was decided by the final stones in the eight end. The Turks first had promising chances, but the Czech skip put pressure by a very good final stone. As Turkey failed a demanding take out, Czech moved ahead to a safe 7–4 lead. Turkey resigned in a very logical moment as they were down 5–7 with only one stone left to play in the tenth end. Both the present Czech fans had a great afternoon and made even more sound on the tribune this round. The women team of Czech Republic meanwhile appeared much more confident today. Having won one match and lost two, they are still of course walking around in the danger zone of this A group. Same is the sitation for Turkey´s young team, but playing hard and fast they remain an attraction for this group.
Third pass: Men´s Group A round 3
Scotland have had a fantastic start on the championship, as their men´s team won a third very convincing match when defeating Italy 7–2 tonight. Italy started with the hammer and actually had a 1–0 lead after the first end. Then they went more or less bankrupt on the scoreboard as Scotland first won 3–0 with the hammer in the second end, and then 1–0 without the hammer in the third and fourth end. Italy got their second point by a narrow 1–0 win in a slow fifth end, but the Scotch team obviously were well satisfied to be ahead 5–2 with the hammer in round six. A disillusioned Italian team resigned in a hopeless position at 2–7 after the seventh end. «Sound» somehow is the first word I will use about skip Bruce Mouat and the rest of this Scotch team so far, as they seem to have a sound plan and a sound handling of the next stone in almost all situations. Scotland is the only team having won all their three first matches in the Men´s A Group. Also, following their play even more than the results so far, they are the only team that will for sure reach the semi finals.
Sweden following their slow start however improved a lot today, and this round won a crushing 7–1 match against Finland. The match somehow was remarkably stable from a Swedish point of view, as they won 1–0 in all the first four ends. Sweden in short played on their usual world class level, while nothing worked out for the Finn team on the key stones. The Finns finally got a score following an accurate take out from their skip in the fifth round, but losing 0–3 after being outplayed in the sixth they already had enough. This suddenly was Niklas Edin and his team as all the Swedish curling fans love to see them play curling. I am not really in doubt that they will reach the semi finals despite a disppointing start. Finland have an experienced and realistic team. Apparently they were neither surprised or depressed to have lost this match. Notably, although none of them played close to their peak today, there is still a lot of curling understanding and history in this year´s team from Finland. Now aged 46 and 47 respectively, Teemu Salo and Kalle Kiiskinen both won a silver medal in the Olympic Winter Games back in 2006.
As Norway had won both their first two matches while Denmark had lost both, it was hard to argue against Norway as the favourite in this Scandinavian meeting. The match however was tense from the first stone, the scoreboard showing 0–0 after the first end, 1–1 after the third and 2–2 after the fifth. The sixth end was proclaimed a likely turning point, at least among the Norwegian fans, as team Walstad increased the pressure and went on to steal a point. The Danish team however hit back harder in the seventh end, building up the position until they could cash in three points with an accurate draw shot from skip Mikkel Krause. The Norwegian team true to their style again succeeded to play heavyweight strategic curling with a lot of stones in play. In complex positions Walstad first wasted a possible chance to win 2–0 in the eight end, but then instead equalized the score by stealing a point in the ninth.
At 5–5 Denmark still had the hammer advantage for the tenth round, but as they became too careful Norway succeeded to establish counterplay by protecting their best stone by guards ahead of the center house. Some kind of tennis curling followed as Denmark used their stones to remove the guards, after which Norway used their next stones to establish a new guard etc. In the dramatic final stone the Danish skip, with only seconds left on his clock, succeeded to get rid of all the remaining stones including his own. 0–0 in the tenth end forced an extra end, in which Denmark kept the hammer advantage.
The eleventh end for a long while followed the footprints of the tenth, as Norway used the same plan with a center stone protected by a guard. Denmark´s third player Mads Nørgaard made two powerful attempts to destroy both the guard and the center pawns – and brought his team much closer to a win as he succeeded on the second attempt. Mikkel Krause following this got the chance finally to decided the match in favour of Denmark by an accurate draw shot. The Danish team had all the same faces as in the first round, but still a completely different level. Denmark following this very surprising and well deserved first win probably is around schedule to save their place in the A group. Norway after winning two key matches probably is around schedule to reach the semi finals, although this meeting with Danish dynamite of course was a hard blow.
The so far so good team from the Czech Republic had another long and very tense match against Germany today. Although the Germans succeeded to steal a point in the first end, the start overall worked out very well from a Czech point of view. The Czech players handled their hammers very well in the first half of the match, winning 3–0 in the second end and 2–0 in the fourth. It was considered a big blow when the Czech team by a very small margin got a second point in the fourth round, resulting in a 5–2 lead. The Germans however hit back with a good plan and an accurate draw shot in the fifth round, narrowing the gap to 4–5 before the second half of the match. The hard working Czech team still was in the driving seat after increasing their lead to 6–4 in the sixth end. The seventh end however gave a jackpot from a German point of view, as a four point win switched the result from 4–6 to 8–6. The Czech soon woke up from the nightmare and fought on bravely. As the Germans suddenly had no good hand with their hammers, the Czech managed to steal a point in the eight and ninth end, equalizing the score at 8–8 before the final end. The heat was on both teams as Germany had 4.30 and Czech republic 3.30 left on the clock for their final eights stones, but Germany after all had an extra minute plus the last stone advantage. During the final minutes of this match the Germans had a very basic plan about exchanging off stones whenever they got the chance and keep the house center open. The Czech team failed to find any plan to stop the German plan, and consequently they lost the match 8–9 after losing the final end 0–1. This might well qualify as a proof that one truly bad end might be enough to lose a match of curling, but that is a well known part of this game. The Germans won of course fully in accordance with the rules and have recovered completely from their awkward first round loss against Finland. Having won two of their first three matches, both teams are still in the run for the semi finals. As both have a hard schedule left, I however still have the feeling that both should have won all their first three matches really to candidate for a medal here.
Sensationally, the match between Switzerland and the Netherlands in this third round turned out to be a match between two teams having lost both the first rounds. Switzerland started up with the hammer and took the lead by winning 2–0 in the second end. Third end saw a strong candidate for the most dramatic take out of this tournament so far, apparently removing about four stones plus one team member. The latter fortunately was soon back on track. Netherlands later used their hammer well in this round and equalized the score. Switzerland however returned to a two point lead following a successful fourth end. The Dutch players somehow cramped in the second half of the match, resigning from the depressing score of 3–8 after the ninth end. Netherlands are the only team not to have won a match in this group yet, and obviously are under increasing pressure in the survival struggle to avoid ninth and tenth place. Switzerland on the other hand proved their capacity and repaired much today, but still is far behind schedule to reach the semi finals.