THE LAHLUM CURLING ROUND REPORT 5
The fifth day of this championship, including round 7 and 8 for the men and round 8 for the women, seen from my place on the tribune was another interesting day with a lot of exciting matches to follow. Before the ninth and final round of the round robin tomorrow, we know what eight teams that will qualify for the 2022 championship for certain in the men´s tournament and for almost certain in the women´s tournament. Regarding the semi final tickets for this week, day 5 gave some important answers, but at the same time also left very important questions unanswered.
First pass: Men´s Group A, round 7
Obviously, it is never much of a surprise to see Bruce Mouat and his Scotland team win a curling match nowadays. Still I was actually a bit surprised, and of course very impressed, by the way Scotland won today. At the same time I was very surprised to see the very strong team from Switzerland winning only one point in a match. The Suisse team before the tournament was often mentioned as the most capable challenger to Scotland and Sweden. The Suisse players before this morning match had a stronger motivation than Scotland, as they were short of points to reach the semi finals (and in fact have been so all this week). Still Scotland won a remarkable 7–1 within six ends. The hammer advantage from the start worked out in favour of the big favourite. This much affected the opening of thematch, as Scotland established a pressure in the first end and went on to win two points. The Suisse players still all appeared halthy during the second end, which got a 0–0 result. Switzerland however looked a bit shaky in a complex and double edged position during the third end. As the Suisse skip Benoit Schwarz failed on the last stone, always effective Scotland went on to steal a point and reach a 3–0 lead. Switzerland appeared about to enter the match as they got a score by winning the fourth end with a normal 1–0, following a solid take out from Schwarz. Scotland however proved merciless with the hammer in a slow and positional third end, gradually increasing the pressure until winning three points by a nice final stroke. The Suisse team understandably resigned after missing the final stone and losing another point in the sixth end. Switzerland must try to win their two final matches and hope for lucky results from other teams. Scotland following their seventh in a row has not only qualified for the semi finals, but also assured the first place in the round robin (Sweden now is the only team than can theoretically catch in Scotland, and in that very unlikely case Scotland will still keept the first place due to winning the internal duel in the first round). Although qualifying for the semi finals now is the essential question for the other teams, avoiding the fourth place to avoid Scotland in the semi final might also be a good idea.
Sweden versus Italy first was the kind of sport match in which the underdog makes a great start, and as a spectator you are all of the time waiting to see when the half–asleep lion will wake up to hit back. And then – the lion just never woke up. Following a careful 0–0 in the first end Sweden played ambitious and had some pressure in the second, but Italy had the hammer and took a 2–0 lead after a nice take out from their all the more impressive skip Joel Retornaz. The start was considered a surprise and promising for an exciting match when Sweden only succeeded to make one point in the third end, while Italy in the fourth end also made a solid 1–0 by a final draw shot. 1–3 was a slow start for Sweden, but still no disaster as they again had the hammer for the fifth end. The finish of the fifth end however was a truly bad sign for Sweden, and made their situation in the match critical. The living legendary Niklas Edin did one of his rare blunders on the last stone. Stealing one more point, Italy midway had a very promising 4–1 lead. Sixth round was a tense battle in which Sweden had chances for two points, but again Edin played an inaccurate last stone and barely saved a 1-0 win. While Italy continued to play at their best with the hammer in the seventh end, Sweden made several mistakes. After an accurate final stone gave Italy three more points and a 7–2 lead, Sweden just resigned. Following five won matches Sweden in a row, this match was back on the lame play from their first round loss against Scotland. Although Edin has a long history about hitting back and improving towards the end of championships, it was mentioned after this match that they still needed at least one more win to confirm a place in the semi final. Italy at 4/7 following this truly impressive match has improved during the final rounds, and now is a hot candidate to reach the semi finals.
Photo: Celine Stucki
Having 3/6 with Scotland waiting for the last round tomorrow, Norway obviously had to win both matches today to keep the semi finale hopes alive. The match against the Netherlands this morning however turned out to cause few problems. Starting up with the hammer, Norway following a quiet 0–0 in the first end established a promising pressure in the second, and went on to win two points following a nice draw shot from their skip Steffen Walstad. Seen in retrospect, this match was practically over when the Dutch skip blundered on his last stone in the third end, allowing Norway to steal two more points and reach a 4–0 lead. While Norway defended by sound means and exchanged off stones, the Dutch team looked disillusioned and came up with nothing despite having the hammer. Remarkably the Netherlands in this match failed to get a score until the seventh end. A 4–1 lead with the hammer after this of course was perfectly fine for the Norwegian team (and popular among the home country crowd). With a low intensity Norway won 1–0 in the eight end, after which the Netherlands picked up one more point in the ninth end and then resigned in a rather hopeless situation at 2–5. Obviously this was a very solid working day win from a Norwegian point of view, and another frustrating loss following a disasasterous opening for the Dutch team.
The match between Denmark and Germany was very important for both teams, as Germany needed a win to save their skin in the top group, while Denmark needed a win to reach the semi finals. This was a tense match with many half-open positions. Both teams played better in their attack when having the last stone than in their defence ends. To illustrate this: Three out of the four first ends gave a 2–0 plus for the hammer team, and Germany got a 4–3 lead as Denmark only succeeded to win 1–0 in the third end. The Danish team balanced the score by winning 1–0 in the fifth round, but the first half of the match still favoured the Germans, as they at 4–4 had taken over the hammer and the initiative. The young Germans increased the pressure upon their more experienced opponents as they in the sixth end had another 2–0 win. This one came following a nice draw shot from the remarkable skip Sixten Totzek – still aged 22. The Danish dynamite team no way lost their optimism, and following a strong pressure in the seventh end balanced the scoreboard by another 2–0 win.
The outcome following this was considered wide open during a tense 0–0 in the eight end. Germany however still had the hammer advantage and in the end they gradually outplayed the opponents, establishing a hard grip on the match as their skip made a strong take out to win two more points. Down 6–8 the Danish team had a difficult situation, although this was a «hammer match» in which the team with the final stone had made a 2–0 score in five ends. In the final minutes Denmark short on the clock failed to come up with any counterattack plans, and so the Germans could walk in the win by exchanging stones and keep the position open. The Danish team resigned at 6–8 when having only one stone left. The young Germans of course were very happy to have reached a third game win, more or less guaranteeing a place in next year´s top group. Denmark truly is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde team in this group. Today they fell backward again, after having won three matches and improved their play so much from an alarming start point.
Germany could take their place in the next A group more or less for given as Finland today had their sixth lost match in a row, despite a promising start against Czech Republic. The Czech team had the hammer first, but failed to make more than one point in a rather closed first end. Finland hit back with a powerful takeout in the second end, taking the initiative in the match by winning 2–0. In a tense third end Finland had the best stone before the final shot from Czech Republic, but the 30 year old skip Lukas Klima made a strong take out and won 2–0. Fourth end saw a great turn in favour of the Finn team, efficiently using the hammer to win 3–0 after the Czech skip missed his last stone. From a rather open position, the hard fighting and very focused Czech players immediately hit back by a 2–0 win in the fifth end – balancing the score at 5–5 before the short midway break.
This match for a long time also was a hammer match in which both teams did better in their attack than in defence. Finland reached a 7–5 lead after winning two points in the sixth end. The stubborn Czech team however hit back again from a double edged position in the seventh end, winning three points as Klima did very well on the very difficult last stone. The match following this still was wide open, as Czech had a 8–7 lead and Finland the hammer with three ends left. The eight end however turned out to be the decisive turning point: The Czech skip Lukas Klima increased the pressure by two strong stones, after which Finn skip Kalle Kiiskinen missed the final and very important draw shot. The only stolen points in this match were two points for Czech Republic in the eight end, and a 10–7 lead at such a late stage of the match of course was decisive. The Czech team was in an inspired mood and had it under control later on, losing only 0–1 in the ninth end and agfterwards exchanging off all the stones in the tenth to win with a 10–8. The Czech team play tight long matches all of the time, but having won four out of seven they can now take next year´s top group for granted and fight on for a place in the semi finals for this year. Finland had another honest loss. But a honest loss in curling still is a loss, and Finland almost certainly will not be qualified for the top group next year.
Second pass: Women´s Group A, round 8
Russia after having won three matched in a row today entered the rink as favourites against the talented and unpredictable young team from Turkey. Although the winner of the match was no surprise, the scoreboard showing 10–1 as the final score after eights ends was close to sensational. In short the Russians played even more effective than in the earlier rounds, while the Turkish players never recovered from a terrible start and had some kind of collective blackout this round. Russia winning 2–0 with the hammer in the first end was a good start, but nothing more. The outcome of the match however was decided within the next two ends, as Turkey made several mistakes. Russia was allowed to steal one point in the second end and two more in the third. Turkey finally got a score in the fourth end, winning 1–0 after missing chances for more. Taking over the hammer for the first time in the match, the Russians first slowed down by 0–0 in the fifth end, but then removed all doubt by a sound 2–0 win in the sixth round. The young lions from Turkey finally stopped the clock after the Russians had stolen three more points within the next two ends. I will use this chance to mention that Turkey is a talented young team with a limited experience from international tournaments, and they can be well satisfied to have won three matches and saved their place in the top group on the first try. Although still a bit unpredictable, Russia at their best is a world class team and they reportedly confirmed their place in the semi finals following this win.
Estonia was the other team to promote from the B group last time, but had a hard meeting with the top group and lost the last theoretical possibilities to prolong the stay as they today lost against Denmark. Once more the Estonian team demonstrated a great capacity and played many very good stones, but in between made too mistakes to win matches on this level. Denmark was under a more heavy pressure than Estonia, as winning this match probably would save their place in the Group A, whole losing definitely would not. The Danish women were lucky to get the hammer in the first round under these circumstances, and succeeded to keep an initiative all the way through match. Estonia however once more made a fine start on the match: The scoreboard showed 1–0 in favour of Denmark after the first end, but then 1–1 after the second. Afterwards it was 3–1 in favour of Denmark after the third end, but 3–3 after the fourth. The final seconds of the fifth end proved crucial, as this was a double edged position in which Denmark could win 2–0 or lose. Their skip Madeleine Dupont succeeded to find the double take out required to win two points and reach a 5–3 lead before the midway break. The match appeared to be more or less over as Dupont against demonstrated the far from easy two point win at the finishing seconds of the seventh end, giving Denmark a 7–4 lead with only three ends left. Estonia however fought on well in this match too, and taking over the hammer they narrowed the score gap to 6–7 in the eight end. At this stage it was very likely that Denmark could save their place in the top group by winning this match, as Czech Republic was totally lost against Italy. The Danish of course felt the pressure, but handled it good enough – drawing the ninth end 0–0 to keep the hammer and then exchanging off stones in the tenth end. Denmark had the best stone with some protection before the two final stones from both teams. Skip Madeleine Dupont still obviously had to prepare mentally for a situation in which an accurate last round stone from her was required to save the match. In the end she did not even have to set the final stone: As Estonia´s final stone hit the guard, Denmark had the best stone without using their last shot and won the match 8–6.
Photo: Celine Stucki
While Denmark have been doing much better in the second half of this tournament, the Czech Republic team have had the opposite development. One point ahead of Denmark before this round, with both teams meeting one of the top teams tomorrow, the hard working team from the Czech Republic still could save themselves by winning against Italy today. The start however was shaky. Czech Republic was less lucky than Denmark today, as their opponents started up with the hammer. While Italy continued their strong play from yesterday, Czech Republic stumbled from the start by losing 0–2 in the first as well as the third end. The Czech team was in the match midway, but at 2–5 they had a long uphill walk ahead. Italy won 2–0 in the sixth and moved ahead to 7–2, while Denmark had got the upper hand against Estonia. Feeling the cockpit crumbling the team from Prague fought on well in the seventh end, narrowing the score to 4–7 following a great double take out from their 32 year old skip Anna Kubeskova. Italy however kept up the pressure and made the better decisions in a closed position during the eight end, increasing the lead to five points again. Czech republic still fought on, hoping for some miracle to save their place in the top group. The resignation finally came as Italy stole two more points when Kubeskova played a draw shot too long in the ninth end. Czech Republic following this set back now will have to defeat Germany tomorrow if they want to play the top group again in 2022.
The match between Scotland and Switzerland menwhile was an important heavyweight duel, as Scotland was fighting to win the round robin and Switzerland to reach the semi finals. The Suisse team did not get much opening advantage from the hammer during a tense first third of the match, but after the first three ends had a 1–0 lead. Then the match accelerated by three much more dramatic ends, and it soon turned out that this change of pace favoured Scotland. Their experienced skip Eve Muirhead under press made a very good last stone in the fourth end, winning two points and giving her team their first lead in the match. Fifth end turned into a long and dry tug of war, with three stones hitting each other around the house center. Scotland demonstrated the best understanding of this closed position and stole a point. Sixth end became an even more heavyweight and closed positional struggle, with 4–5 stones pushing against each other around the house center. Scotland again demonstrated the better understanding. Switzerland´s hammer actually turned out to be more or less worthless, as the position at that stage had all the more striking similiarites to a bankbox. Scotland following this succeeded to steal two more points, reaching a won match position with 5–1. Switzerland went for a more open position in the eight end and finally got a score again, but 1–0 at this stage of course was too little and too late. Scotland definitely is back on track following their derailment in the sixth round. Eve Muirhead still in a firework mood finished off the match by a brilliant double take out in the eight end – leaving an astonishing 7–2 on the scoreboard.
Finally, and no way to be forgotten, Sweden versus Germany today became a three hours long and almost epic duel between one gold medal favourite and one medal candidate both now fighting for a ticket to the semi finals. The first end true enough was a rather safe 0–0, but then the firework was about to start. Sweden first had the upper hand, using the hammer to win 2–0 in the second end following a fine take out. Germany headed by Daniela Jentsch took over the hammer and had chances for two points in the second round, but following a good defence from Anna Hasselborg Sweden came ahead at 2–1. Sweden had an initiative in the fourth end but only got a 1–0 win. In the fifth end Germany played hard for a 2–0, with scattered pawns all around the house. Jentsch had a difficult draw shot for two points, but had to accept a win 1–0 – leading to a 3–2 advantage for Sweden after the first five ends. Germany´s position in the match appeared close to losing as Sweden in the sixth round increased the pressure until winning 2–0, extending their lead to 5–2. The German team however hit back with a masterful positional game in the seventh end. By her last stone Hasselborg admitted the failure and tried to save a lead, practically offering Sweden a 2–0 win in the end. Jentsch however succeeded to make a very difficult shot worth three points, suddenly equalizing the score at 5–5.
The eight end following this become a breath out and wait-break for both players, resulting in a solid 0–0. Not too keen to start the tenth end at 5–5 against the Swedish team and the hammer, Germany went for more active counterplay in the ninth end. Hasselborg in her last stone tried to get out all the remaining stones, but failed as her own stone did not leave the house. Following this a classical last round curling match drama followed: Sweden had the lead at 6–5, while Germany took over the hammer. 2–0 would be a German win, 1–0 would be an eleventh end and 0–0 or 0–1 would be a Swedish win. The Swedish strategy rather obviously was to allow a 1–0 win for the Germans, leading to an extra end in which Sweden would take over the hammer. Germany also rather obviously tried to avoid that scenario, running some risks to play for a 2–0 win in the tenth end. Germany again left two scattered stones at the edge of the house, hoping that one of them could turn out to be the winning second point. Sweden tried to avoid such a scenario by closing the position around the center zone. Left behind the wall was a poistion in which Germany had the best stone, but very difficult to get the second best stone. Hasselborg´s choice for the last stone was another guard to close off the center. This gave Jentsch a chance for a draw shot to curl in from the left side of the center. As she failed this very difficult shot, the outcome of the tenth end became – 6–6 and an eleventh end.
Sweden of course first tried to keep the position open while waiting for the hammer to decide, but Germany went for ambitious counterplay by establishing guards. The sixth stone from Sweden missed the target and made little to improve their chances. Tension was high and the Swedish player hit her broom in the ice, obviously fearing that her mistake would lose the match for her team. The final decision became an outstanding duel between two world class skips. Daniela Jentsch did another great shot, succeeded to curl in from the right side of the center and established a new best stone only a few centimetres behind the house center. It is very difficult to suggest improvements for the play of the German team in the eleventh end. But Sweden still had Anna Hasselborg, and she still had the final stone to make. In a magnificent end to an epic match her stone sailed in to land almost perfect on the house center, just better than the best German stone. Sweden following this after all won the match 7–6 and confirmed their place in the semi final, while Germany will have to wait until tomorrow for a decision.
Following all this Scotland is leading at 7/8 ahead Russia and Sweden at 6, then Germany and Switzerland at 5m then Italy at 4. The remaining teams are Turkey at 3, Denmark and Czech Republic at 2 and Estonia at 0. I am not sure if I understand why Worldcurling already lists Russia and Sweden as qualified in this situation, but I trust that they know. If so the fight for the fourth place is between German and Switzerland, as Italy should be behind Germany due to internal meetings even if defeating Switzerland in the last round. Germany is a clear favourite for the fourth place in the semi finals as they have also won the internal match against Switzerland, and following this Germany should only need to win the match against Czech Republic. After the performances so far at Lillehammer Germany will be a big favourite, although it should be noted that Czech Republic if winning this match can still save their place for 2022. Switzerland versus Italy is the most open match in round nine, as Russia will be a big favourite against Estonia, same will Scotland against Turkey and Sweden against Denmark. By far the most likely scenario seen from my place seems to be Scotland versus Germany and Russia versus Sweden in the semi finas. As both the women´s semi finals are played later tomorrow, we can anyway look forward to a long, exciting and important day in the women´s tournament.
Third pass: Men´s Group A, round 8
To tell the truth as I saw it, this round although of course very important was not among the mest exciting or interesting. All five matches had a more or less obvious favourite. Although one of the matches officially got a close score in the end, all of them had the favourite as a given winner well before two hours. The difference in strength between the teams apparently increased again towards the end of the tournament, after decreasing in the middle of the tournament. This however is a well known situation from earlier championships in curling as well as many other team sports. The best teams will be more experienced with long tournaments on this level, and usually they will also have more to fight for. In addition to the winner of the round robin, we know now the identity of the two teams that will have to play in the B group next year. Scotland however still is the only team formally having qualified for the semi finals on Friday, and so the fight to win the three remaining places (and to avoid playing Scotland) will be very exciting in round nine tomorrow.
Speculations, hopes and worries that Scotland would be a less frightening opponent for the two remaining matches after having won the round robin and qualified for the semi finals, soon turned out to be unfounded. Czech republichad much more to fight for in this match, but still was beaten up for the first time in the tournament. The start hammer here further strengtened the favourite. Although Scotland won 2–0 in the first end, the Czech team actually hit back by a two points win in the second end. After getting back the hammer Scotland however won 3–0 in the third end. The outcome was practically decided as the Czech skip missed a difficult draw shot for 1–0 at the end of the fourth end. Stealing two more points, Scotland moved ahead 7–2. More or less the same happened again in the fifth end: The strong and well coordinated Scottish forces established a stressing pressure, the Czech skip failed to save his team on the final stones, and Scotland went on to steal two more points. Leading 7–1, the otherwise very professional Scottish team actually appeared to lose focus for a few minutes in the sixth end – allowing still focused Czech players to win it 3–0. Following this both team appeared fairly well satisfied for tonight. After Scotland picked up one point more in a not to intensive seventh end, Czech Republic respectfully resigned with 5–10 on the scoreboard.
Sweden on the other hand showed some signs on losing their concentration against the Netherlands, but thas was only after the match anyway was decided. Sweden had the hammer and won 2–0 in the first end, but the young Dutchmen won the second 1–0 after a nice take out followed by a solid draw shot. The Netherlands still had contact at 1–2 after the third end – but only half an hour later the scoreboard was at 1–7. In the fourth end Sweden won 3–0 following great play from their skip, and then stole two more points as Netherland under pressure missed their last stone. The second half of the match however was a disappointment for the Swedish fans and other spectators. Sweden losing the tenth end 0–1 and winning the match 8–7 was more or less a technical curiosity, as team Edin had full control with a 8–6 lead and the hammer in the final end. Still their six points lead after the fifth end was reduced to two points after the ninth end. In curling you either win or lose a match. Sweden never was in danger of not winning this one and qualified safely for the semi finals, but must improve their play from today to reach the final. The Netherlands are formally doomed to play the B group next year following this result, but it is a highly talented young team that should have good chances to return in 2023.
Denmark still had a small chance to reach the semi finals at the start of the match against Switzerland. It did not last long, although the colourful Danish team for some 15 minutes was in a 2–1 lead after the second end. Switzerland was the much better team this evening, and never looked back after getting back the hammer and winning a convincing 3–0 in the third end. Denmark already was in deep trouble with 2–5 on the scoreboard after four ends. Then an all the more demanding fifth end lead to Swizerland stealing a record five points – reaching a rather shocking 10–2 lead before the midway break. The match continued on the same path after the break, as Switzerland in the sixth end continued their ambitious play and stole two more points. And then there were no more ends in this match.
This Danish team appears to be better to walk downhill than uphill. Following their difficult start on this A group, their players anyway can be proud to have won three matches and confirmed their ticket to the top group in the European Championship as well as the World Championship qualification tournament next year. No shadow of course to fall over Switzerland, winning their probably best match of these championships. It should be mentioned that it was probably still too late for a semi final ticket.
Finland had got the hammer and made one more of their narrow 1–0 wins in the first end against Norway. Winning 2–0 in the fourth end, the Finns balanced the score at 3–3. The more ambitious Norwegian team however had the initiative all of the time, and suddenly ran ahead after squeezing a three point win out of a tight positional struggle in the fifth end. Finland again came under pressure in the sixth end, and the winner was more or less decided as Norway stole one more point there. The rest was transport from both sides: The score when Finland resigned before the tenth end was 9–4, after three ends all won 1–0 by the team with the last stone advantage. Norway following two sound and expected wins today are at 5/8, and still moves around in the borderline area for the semi finals.
Germany versus Italy after five ends was the most close match in this round. The match made a somewhat jumpy start, as 0–0 in the first end was followed by 3–0 in favour of Italy in the second end and 3–0 in favour of Germany in the third! Still fighting for a place in the semi finals, Italy however continued their inspired play from the last rounds, and after winning 2–0 in the fourth end remained ahead for the rest of the match. The final score of 11–5 might be a bit misleading, as Germany under pressure to win at least 2–0, instead lost 0–4 in the ninth end. Italy however played better curling than Germany tonight, and had the match under fairly good control as their before the ninth end had a 7–5 lead and the hammer.
In the Men´s tournament Scotland following all this has reached at an outstanding 8/8. Sweden alone in the second position at 6 obviously also has qualified for the semi finals as Italy and Norway now are the two only teams at 5 – followed by Czech Republic and Switzerland at 4, Denmark and Germany at 3. Finland and Netherlands at 1/8 will finish 9 and 10 in some order, whatever the result tomorrow. In round 9 Scotland will play against Norway, Sweden against the Czech Republic, Italy against Finland, Switzerland against Germany and the Netherlands against Denmark.
Italy obviously is in a much safer situation than Norway – partly because the italians won the internal duel against the Norwegians yesterday, and partly because they meet a much less frightening opponent tomorrow. Norway on the other hand seems to have a good chance to qualify for the semi finals even with an expected loss against Scotland, as Norway will be ahead Switzerland due to winning the internal duel if these two teams ends up alone at 5/9. Czech Republic however is a dark horse if they can defeat Sweden – as the Czech team won their duels against both Norway and Switzerland.
Following this it seems that Sweden versus Italy is very likely to be one of the semi finals, while Scotland will play either Norway or Czech Republic. Most other Norwegians (not to mentioned the Swedes!) present appear convinced that Sweden will defeat Czech Republic, but I do not feel to safe about that following Sweden´s play today. Anyway we can look forward first to an exciting ninth round tomorrow and then two great semi finals on Friday!