• Curling EM2021


The fourth day, including two more rounds for the women teams and one more round for the men, was another great day with a lot of interesting curling matches to be seen at Lillehammer. Tension is increasing round by round, as we are moving closer to the end of the round robin. Remarkably the atmosphere still is very friendly. I am impressed and a bit surprised not yet to have observed any bad losers or arrogant winners, as both at this stage would have been obligatory for a chess tournament of a similar size.

First pass: The Women´s Group A, round 6

Several favourites won without much excitement in this round too, but we also had several interesting and/or exciting matches. One of them even qualified as a sensation following the results so far.

Entering the ring against one of the strongest teams after losing all your first five matches obviously is a demanding starting point in any kind of sport. In curling, whether you or your opponents start up with the hammer can make a lot of difference. This was the case for Estonia today, as Switzerland got the hammer and following several mistakes from the shaken Estonians went on to win 4–0 in the first end. Estonia improved during the upcoming ends and narrowed the gap to 3–6 after a two point win in the fifth end. Switzerland of course still had everything under control, winning the match 10–4 after picking up two more points in the sixth and eight end.

Photo: Celine Stucki/WCF

Italy on the other hand made the most sensational first five ends of this championship so far – leading 6–1 against so far untouchable Scotland! This result was even more unbelivable as Scotland started up with the hammer and held it for all the first four ends. Scotland from the start played well below their high standard from the earlier rounds and failed to make anything out of the hammer on their first two attempts. In the third end Scotland finally was ready to win one point, but instead they lost two as the so far brilliant Eve Muirhead blundered on her final shot. In the fourth end the Scottish team had a strong pressure, but failed to make more than one point out of it. In the fifth end Italy finally got their first chance to handle the hammer. Their chances increased as Scotland for a moment misunderstood the take out concept – removing their own guard instead of an enemy stone. Italy on their final stone in this end had a jackpot take out, winning four points to reach the above mentioned 6–1 lead.

Scotland appearently woke up from the nightmare during their short midway break, and was back close to their peak afterwards. The rest of this match was an exciting run against the time: Scotland all of the time reduced the difference on the scoreboard, and the big question was whether they would succeed to equalize the scoreboard before the tenth end was over on the ice. Scotland first picked up two points in the sixth end. Italy however still held a 7–3 lead after winning 1–0 when getting back the hammer in the seventh end. A long and complex eight end concluded with a 3–0 win for Scotland, as Muirhead hit back with a brilliant last stone. The match following this after all got an exciting finish, and this happened while both teams had only 5–6 minutes for the remaining two ends.

Scotland held an initiative in the ninth end, forcing Italy to accept a 1–0 win. Before the tenth end Italy following this had a 8–6 lead, but still could not be sure to save the match as Scotland got back the hammer. Scotland had a pressure in the final end and at one stage had the two best stones, but the young Italian team handled the increasing pressure fairly good. In the bitter end Scotland failed a very difficult shot to win two points. Instead winning 1–0, they after all lost the match 7–8. This match result probably would not have qualified as more than a small surprise before the tournament, but following Scotland´s amazing play so far it was now called a sensation. Italy followng this unexepted third win had more or less confirmed their place in the next Group A and was still in the calculations for a place in the semi final. Scotland still has a pretty safe place there, and following other results today still can be found at an unshared first – following five won and one lost match.

The German team had a great start on this tournament, but still cannot take a place in the semi finals for granted after losing a 7–4 in a somewhat confusing and very important match against Russia today. The Germans played fairly solid except for their all the more shaky second end – in which Russia built up a strong pressure and won 4–0 following on of the rare blunders from the very experienced German skip Daniela Jentsch. Consequently Russia had a 6–2 lead after the fourth round. The match became exciting again as Germany hit back with a 2–0 win in the fifth end, with Jentsch now performing an instructive draw shot. The second half of the match however was dry. Russia defended very well, while Germany had remarkable problems to come up with anything to change the match situation. Two point up, the Russians understandably were well satisfied with a 0–0 result in the sixth end. Germany in the seventh end more or less forced Russia to win 1–0, but on the remaining three ends the Germans failed to get any single point out of it. Russia in short won a match they had to win rather convincingly, and their chance to reach a semi final following this should be around 50–50. Following what we have seen this week I still believe that Germany will make it, but this of course was a demanding set back for their cause.

Denmark after losing their first five matches needed a win against Czech Republic to keep their hope for another Group A start in 2022 alive. The Danish women players handled the pressure very well, and made their best match so far as they won 7–4. Although Denmark had the hammer and got a great start by winning the first end 2–0, the first half of the match was very tight. The scoreboard showed 2–2 after the second end and 3–3 after the fifth. After winning the sixth end 1–0, Denmark gave themselves a promising pressure in the seventh. In that end Denmark had the three best stones in the house before the last Czech stone – which was a blunder missing the target almost completely. Following this Denmark stole two points and reached a very promising 6–3 lead. Czech Republic got only one point in the ninth end, after which 1–0 for Denmark in the tenth finally decided the match. Denmark won this match much due to their strong take outs, and the final point was such a shot from their 34 year old skip Madeleine Dupont. The Danish team this year is an interesting mixture, as Madeleine and her three year older sister Denise are playing together with two rising talents aged 22. The next three rounds will show whether they can save the place in the Group A. Following this result Denmark still has a chance to get out of the danger zone – while Czech Republic also will stay there at least for today.

Sweden versus Turkey was a key match for the semi final tickets. Three wins out of five before this match instructively qualified a disappointment from a Swedish point of view and an inspiration from a Turkish point of view. Although Sweden had the hammer and won 2–0 in the first end, the first third of the match was not at all bad news for the young Turks. They immediately hit back by winning 1–0 in the second end, after lacking less than one centimetre to equalize the score, and defended well to reach 0–0 in the third end. The fourth end however became very important, as the Swedish skip (and star) Anna Hasselborg by a very good final stone succeeded to win two points and reach a 4–1 lead. Although playing many strong stones, Turkey facing a top world class opponent today was just not good enough neither in their defence or when trying to maxime the score with the hammer.

After Turkey failed to make use of the hammer in the fifth end, Sweden following a long and complex sixth end was well satisfied to lose only one point. Sweden despite a promising position in turn failed to win more than 1–0 in the seventh. The eight end was another long one and became Turkey´s best in this match. Their young skip Dilsat Yildiz again was under heavy pressure as a blunder on the last stone would be decisive. She solved all the challenges very well – winning two points and moving her team up to a narrow 4–5 on the scoreboard. In reality, the very solid Swedish team still had it all under control, playing one point up with the hammer before the two final ends. Turkey came up with some counterplay in the ninth end, but Hasselborg was ice cold and won one more vital point on her final stone. Up 6–4 before the last end, Sweden just exchanged off stones until the Turks resigned due to lack of material. Sweden would have been in a very dangerous position if losing this match, but instead winning it they took a long step towards the semi finals.

Second pass: Men´s Group A round 6

Today´s only round in this group was another hard fought one. My impression is that the teams from the lower half of this field in average have improved their play more than the top teams during the last 2–3 days, hence most of the matches are exciting to follow at this stage.

The Netherlands young team yesterday won their first match and registered for the list of possible survivors, but they failed to continue the lift following a disasterous opening against Italy today. Like Estonia in the women´s group A, Netherlands met a better team starting up with the hammer advantage. Like Estonia they, following several mistakes, lost 0–4 in the first end. Netherlands woke up just in time to hit back with a 2–0 win the second end. The final stone of the third end might have been very important for the outcome is this match, as the Italian skip by a masterstroke saved two points and preserved a four point lead for his team. The Netherlands later looked disillusioned, and Italy in a more inspired mood went on to win 10–4 after eight ends.

In chess it is a well known situation that one blunder move, made within a few seconds, can destroy all the joy of a very interesting game having lasted for hours. I have noted that this situation is also rather common in curling. The match between Denmark and Scotland this round might well illustrate such a scenario. Scotland did not play at their top level in this match, while Denmark continued their remarkable progress and gave the Scottish team a much harder fight that anyone else have done so far this tournament. Scotland started up with the hammer, but following sound conterplay from the Danish team made only 1–0 in the first end. Denmark following a great draw shot from skip Mikkel Krause surprisingly won 2–0 in the second end and took over the lead. The team with the hammer then won a normal 1–0 in the third and fourth round. Denmark put some pressure on the favourites in the fifth end, when their skip Bruce Mouat saved Scotland by a strong last stone – winning the end 2–0 by a very small margin on the second stone. Krause made another great last shot in the sixth end, winning two more points and retaking the lead at 6–5.

A great and tense curling duel continued as Mouat handled the pressure on the last stone in the seventh end, winning two more points. Still the outcome was completely open at the start of the eight end. Scotland had a 6–5 lead while Denmark held the hammer. The decisive moment became the final stone of this end, and the margin was very small. Scotland had created a lot of counterplay this round. Before the last stone of the outsiders, the favourites following this had the three best stones in the house. The Danish team still had an open line for a 1–0 win. Krause had been great on more difficult draw shots earlier on, but this time he pushed the stone just a little bit too hard for one second. Direction was good, but the speed a little too high. Although his teammates realized the dangers and did not sweep the stone, it just passed the Scottish stones in the house before stopping. Instead of the expected 6–6 the scoreboard suddenly had a 9–5 lead for Scotland. Although understandably looking disillusioned, the Danish team demonstrated their capacity by winning 2–0 in the ninth round. It was still of course too little and too late. The Danish 1–0 win in the last round more or less is a technical curiosity, as the professional Scottish team at that stage was only interested not to lose more than 1–0. No way a curiosity, this was the first match in which Scotland had to play all the ten ends.

Sweden have improved their play much following a troublesome start, and entered the rink as a fairly big favourite against the young German team. This match made a higly entertaining opening as both teams played ambitious to win more than one point when having the hammer. Sweden won 2– 0 in both the first and the third end, claiming a 4–3 edge in the match. Niklas Edin again played at this world top level on the final stones of the fifth end, winning it 2–0 to reach a 6–3 lead midway. The sixth end was a tight battle in which the Swedes found a lot of counterplay. They were rewarded as the German skip blundered on a difficult last stone. Stealing two points in this end, Sweden much to the joy of their fan club on the tribune reached a safe 8–3 lead. The young Germans fought on well and had another 2–0 win in the seventh end. Up 8–5 with the hammer for the eight end, the now solid Swedish team had no problems to reach a controlled 9–6 win. The German team is the youngest in this group and for sure a great hope for the future. Following this loss they will definitely not reach the semi finals thus year, and might even risk to lose their place for next year. Sweden for sure will play the semi final this year.

Switzerland was a fairly big favourite against Finland, had the hammer in the first end and made a promising start by a 2–0 win then. The match still became another hard and long one. The Finns made a slow start and were down 3–1 after the fourth end. Following a good take out in a closed position, they won two points to equalize the score in the fifth end. Switzerland made a good end in the sixth, increasing the pressure until winning two points by a safe draw shot from their skip Benoit Schwarz. The seventh end was close to disaster from a Finn point of view, but they were lucky with the margins as measurement of two stones at the outer edge of the house gave them a tiny 1–0 win. This made the score an exciting 4–5 instead of a rather relaxing 3–6. Switzerland still had got the upper hand, and after winning another point in the eight they reached a promising 6–4 lead. The Finns found no way to use their hammer stone in the ninth end, and finally just forced a 0–0 draw to play on with the hammer in the tenth end.

Switzerland for the second round in a row had a two points lead before the last end, but again appeared somewhat unpleasant with the situation. The Suisse players have had somewhat strained relations with the clock this tournament. Although they this time had nearly two minutes left after setting their last stone, their opponents then had got chances of the ice. Finland had only one stone in the house, but had a clear path for a take out to win the tenth end 2–0 (and so take the match to an extra eleventh end). 46 year old Kalle Kiiskinen, the oldest skip of this group, of course saw the plan and knew what he had to do. He did it however with a slight inaccuracy. The best Suisse stone true enough disappeared, but so did one of the Finnish stones – leaving a score of 1–0 for Finland in the tenth end and 6–5 for Switzerland in the match. The players from Switzerland once more hang on the run for the semi finals by their nails, but this win combined with other results today did improve their chances a lot. The players from Finland shares the ninth place with the Netherlands after losing their fifth match in a row. This too was a very respectable loss against a much younger team with better results recently. Finland might have some practical chances to pass Germany, at this stage one point ahead, especially as they won the internal meeting back in round one.

Norway and Czech Republic in this tournament have had in common a tendency to adjust their own level to the opponent, and so both play tight and long matches about every round. Following this I was not at all surprised that their internal meeting today became a tight and long match. This match also was a rapidly changing one as both teams played a bit uneven, and rarely played at their best at the same time. The first stage following this was a Czech opening success. They started up with the hammer and following a not too exciting first end went on to win 2–0 in the second end. The Czech team then succeeded to steal a point in the third end, as Norway missed the final draw shot by a small margin. Then the Czech team in a promising match situation somehow lost their concentration, allowing Norway to catch up by winning 2–0 in the fourth end and 1–0 in the fifth.

Sixth end following this became a crossroad, in which the Czech established an initiative. The Czech skip Lukas Klima made an excellent stone, while Norwegian Steffen Walstad this time failed to save a difficult position. The consequence was a three point win for Czech Republic in that end. Walstad following a tense seventh end hit back was a masterful last stroke, instructively hitting a Norwegian stone through one of the Czech stones to reach a 2–0 win. This narrowed the Czech lead to 5–6. Eight end was another tense struggle finishing with another tense draw shot, as Lukas Klima pushed it too hard – allowing Norway to steal one point and reach a 6–6 draw. Stakes were high in the also very complex ninth end, and both teams towards the end of this had less than five minutes left on the clock. In the end Klima again was left to make a very important last stone, in a promising but still double edged position. For a few seconds it was clear that Czech had won the ninth end, but unclear whether they won it by one or two points. The hard working Czech players of course were very happy to realize they had the second point too, leading to a nearly risk free lead of 8–6 before the tenth end.

With Norway having 4.30 and Czech republic 03.43 left on the clock, the eight stones in the final end also were heavy to handle for both sides. Norway first had a promising situation. Following successfull take outs from the Czech players, Walstad had a very difficult situation when entering the rink for his final performance today. A desperate plan that could lead to a 2–0 win of course was the best pratical try in this situation. The outcome still was another 2–0 loss, leading to an apparently pleasant 10–6 for Czech Republic. The skip duel probably all in all was about in balance, as both Klima and Walstad had some notable mistakes in between many very good stones. The teammates however gave Klima a better starting point that Walstad had this round. As curling still very much is a team sport the Czech team of course very well deserved their win.

The result from today, including Norway´s loss for Czech republic, turned the fight for the semi final tickets in the Men´s Group A into a mess. Scotland at 6/6 and Sweden 5/6 for all practical purposes are in the semi finales, but third place at 3/6 now is shared between Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Norway AND Switzerland. Following that 5/9 this year might be or not be enough to advance. There are much too many possibilities for now. Hence I will take the easy way out and write more about this in the next report – when we know the results from round 7 and 8.

Third pass: Women´s Group A round 7

Round seven further strenghtened my impression that this group is more uneven than the men´s Group A. Three out of five matches more or less were decided within the first hour. Still there is a hard fight going on to get the attractive semi final tickets for this year – and another fight to avoid the much less attractive Group B tickets for next year.

Scotland this evening immediately hit back from their unexpected set back in the first round today, and within seven ends they crushed the Czech Republic with a painful 9–1. The Czech team made a sound 0–0 draw in the first end, but understandably looked disillusioned after losing the next three ends with a total of 0–5. Czech Republic at 0–3 had some chances during a complex and double edged fourth end. After failing the final draw shot and losing 0–2 in that end, they probably more or less gave up all hopes for this match.

Scotland after winning six out of their first seven matches for all practical purposes have confirmed their place in the semi finals, two rounds before the end of the round robin. Most likely they will finished first in the round robin part, which is close to sensational following their somewhat disappointing results earlier this year. The Czech team hardly expected to win this match, but they had a further down today and at 2/7 are in serious danger of losing their place in the Group A. This especially as they lost the internal meeting against Denmark and have Scotland left for the ninth round. Still however Czech Republic have a real chance to save themselves, as a win against Italy tomorrow with some 95 % certainity will be sufficient.

Talking about Denmark, they did get some more points against Switzerland, but never had any real chances to win the match. Having the hammer advantage in the first end, the Suisse team won it 2–0 and kept a lead at 4–2 after the first five ends. The sixth end was a tight struggle, which ended with a control measurement between the second best stone for Suisse and the best stone for Denmark. As the conclusion became another 2–0 win, Switzerland reached a 6–2 lead. Denmark later fought on, but understandably did not look too optimistic for their chances. A sound playing Suisse team after ten ends had a pleasant 8–3 on the scoreboard. Denmark will have a good chance to save their place if defeating Estonia tomorrow. Denmark however will be in deep trouble if they lose to Estonia, or if Czech Republic can defeat Italy tomorrow. Following the results so far, they can hardly expect to defeat Sweden in the last round.

Talking about Sweden, they had few if any problems to get their fourth win in a row against Estonia. The outcome never really was in doubt after Sweden won 3–0 in the first end. Still I feel it should be mentioned that Estonia offered fair resistance against the Olympic and European Champions for the rest of the match. The Estonians finally resigned towards the end of the tenth, as they were down 4–7 on the scoreboard with only two stones left on the ice. After the first five ends the result was 4–4, each team winning four ends 1–0. The Swedish players somehow appeared slightly frustrated not to have won even more points and finished off this match earlier. Still they of course made a very solid performance and had the match under control from the first to the last end. The Sweden team at 5/7 have recovered very well and is likely to confirm formally their semi final ticket tomorrow. Estonia came up from the Group B before this tournament and at 0/7 it seems obvious that they will be sent back down – for this time.

While three matches tonight finished early and without much doubt about the favourite´s win, the remaining two matches were long and hard fought. Probably still inspired after defeating Scotland this morning, Italy made a promising first half of the match against Russia. Starting up with the hammer, the Russians true enough won 2–0 following an effective take out in the first end. Italy however equalized the score at 2–2 following an effective draw shot in the second end, and was up 5–4 after stealing a point in the fifth end. The sixth end however became a triumph for the Russian team, methodically increasing the pressure until winning by three points. So far the match had been highly entertaining and ambitious from both sides, with two or more points in five our of six ends. Following the sixth end the match however dried out completely, much similar to Russia´s match against Germany earlier today. As Russia now had a 7–5 lead, Italy following some minutes of discussions turned down a possible 1–0 win in the seventh round to keep the hammer. They might have regretted that decision later, as the eight and ninth ends both were drawn at 0–0 within a few minutes. Russia of course was happy to exchange off stones, and Italy apparently had no plans. The tenth end was much more complex and first gave Italy some possibilities to play for the neccessary 2–0 win. Russia again defended very well and Italy resigned following a strong take out just before they ran out of stones.

Following the results from today the young italian team have lost the chances for a semi final ticket, but at 3/7 they will soon get confirmed their place for the Group A in next year´s championship. Russia following two convincing and rather similar wins today is one out of four teams sharing the second, third, fourth and fifth place at 5/7. Obviously, following this, they have a good chance but no guarantee to reach the semi finals.

Germany versus Turkey also was a key match for both teams. Turkey got the first end hammer and used it to take a 2–0 lead. The experienced German team no way was shaken, and I noted today that their 39 year old skip Daniele Jentsch beside her great assets as a player also seems to be a very communicating and supporting team leader for her three much younger teammates (including her 13 year old sister Analena) in such critical situations. The match for a long time remained a balanced battle, as the score went from 2–2 after the second end to 4–4 after the fifth. Germany later methodically moved ahead to 6–4, by winning 1–0 in both the sixth and seventh end. The unpredictable Turkish fireworks of their young skip Dilsat Yildiz have given this tournament a lot of entertainment. The fireworks were seen again today, as Yildiz by a magnificant triple take out gave the Turkish team a 2–0 win and a new hope in the eight end. At 6–6 Daniele Jentsch still went around apparently unshaken, talking to her teammates and working out a plan to use the hammer advantage. It worked out very well, as Germany by sound means dominated the ninth end. As Yildiz this time was unable to come up with firework on the last stones, Germany won the end 2–0 and once more reached a two point lead.

The tenth end, in which Turkey was down 6–8 but had the last stone advantage for sure was very exciting to follow for the players in the match, as well as for their fans (and at this stage of course also for players in other teams which could be severly affected by the outcome). Tension increased further as both teams had less than five minutes left on the clock. From my neutral place on the tribune it still appeared that Germany defended well and had the situation under reasonable control at that late stage. Yildiz in the current position before her final stone had no real possibility to reach a 2–0 win. True to her creative style she went for a tactical try that instead lost this end 0–1 and the match 6–9. (7–8 or 6–9 of course made no practical difference for her and the teammates in this situation.) Turkey following this result can not reach a semi final this year, but the players for sure will save their place in the Group A and can be proud of their dancing among wolves here.

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