THE LAHLUM CURLING ROUND REPORT 7
First pass: Men´s first semifinal!
The Italian team and their 38 year old skip Joel Retornaz were not among the medal favourites before this championship. Then they made a modest start with two won and three lost matches in the first five rounds. Improving their play a lot they however made a hurricane finish in the round robin. Surprisingly winning all their last four matches, including a sensational 7–2 win against Sweden in round 7, they finished third and qualified for the semifinals ahead Switzerland and several other more merited teams.
The legendary team Edin from Sweden, having won the European Championships seven times in earlier seasons, actually became a slight disappointment in the round robin this year. Sweden lost against Scotland and Italy with play far below their usual world class level. Still they won seven out of nine matches, finished second in the round robin and are the current World Champions and European Champions. Sweden this morning entered the rink at Lillehammer as an obvious favourite, despite Italy´s big win in their internal meeting two days ago.
The first end, in which Sweden started up with the hammer, turned into a rather open duel. One Swedish stone was the only one inside the house when the skips started up their semifinal, and that stone was immediately removed by Retornaz. Edin intervened in the center with his first stone, but Retornaz removed that one too with a well timed takeout. Edin as expected cleaned the house with a zero result instead of giving up the hammer.
In the second end Italy first had the best stone, but Sweden still had a pressure with a majority of the stones in the house plus the hammer stone. Retornaz defended very well with another takeout, removing the most dangerous Swedish stone and giving Italy three against two stones in the house. Edin´s first shot in this end opened lines for his upcoming last stone, but meanwhile allowed Italy to keep the best stone in the center. Retornaz used the chance to increase the pressure by letting in a new stone in the center. Edin´s final takeout was not an easy shot and could result in both a +2 and –2 score. He did it very well, hitting both the Italian stones to make a 1–0 win.
The third end developed from half-closed into a much too open position. Only one Italian stone was in the house when Edin entered the scene for his first stone. The skip duel here became a not too complicated takeout contest, leading to an expected 0–0 result. Sweden following this had a 1–0 lead, following a greedy and somewhat careful start on the match.
Fourth end was an interesting position with more stones in play. Sweden in the middle of this end had the best stone and a two versus one majority in the house, but the position opened following an Italian takeout on the fifth stone. The Swedes as always had open discussions in the team, and this revealed that they worried about the position. That was even before Italy´s third player Amos Mosaner did a brilliant double takeout – suddenly leaving Italy with the two best stones. Edin on his second last stone hit the best Italian stone. Retornaz in turn used his second last stone to push Italy´s best stone into a winning position. Edin curled around a draw shot to put his last stone on the house center. The Swedish plan however had a drawback, which Retornaz efficiently demonstrated, hitting the guard into the center to remove the Swedish stone. Italy following this won two points and surprisingly was in a 2–1 lead after the fourth end.
The fifth end was a tight and closed position with a big cluster of stones in the center area. This resulted in a complex position, in which Italy´s best stone at the end of the cluster gave Sweden some long term worries. Italy´s third player again made efforts to open up the position, leaving a porous position with so many possibilities that the Swedish team requested an early time-out. The plan chosen by the Swedish team succeeded to make the position even more complex, although they now (reportedly) had the best stone somewhere in the middle of the mess. Sweden´s try to clearify the situation on the sixth stone did not work out as intended, removing their own best stone and leaving Italy with the two best. Sweden however had five stones inside the house and could get a jackpot if able to remove the remaining Italian stones. Italy now in turn requested a time-out to discuss plans for their two final stones with the coach. After Italy closed the position further Edin went for a takeout to open the position, but the result was dangerous for his team, as Italy before the hammer had the three best stones. Edin in the end just saved the team, although with a very small margin as the measurement gave Sweden a 1–0 win. Italy could be well satisfied to reach a 2–2 score and take over the hammer after five ends, although Sweden survived a very demanding situation. Although this was a very interesting end, it took a lot of time on the clocks and both teams afterwards appeared reliefed.
After the well-deserved break, the sixth end made a somewhat awaiting and positional start. Italy had the best stone while Sweden went for counterplay with a guard line of two stones behind their center stone. Italian tries for a takeout were unsuccessful, leaving Sweden with the two best stones in the center. Italy´s try for a double takeout in the sixth stone however was a success, hitting both the Swedish stones and leaving an empty house behind three Italian stones. Edin tried to hide his first stone in the house behind one of the Italian stones, but Retornaz removed it by a precise takeout. This left one Italian stone in a fairly open house before the final stone from each team. If Edin had been inaccurate this would have resulted in a 2–0 win for Italy, but he had no problems to remove the Italian stone. Italy following this decided to blank the sixth end by sending their last stone straight through the house, instead of handling Sweden back the hammer by winning 1–0. The match still at 2–2 following this continued with a surprising edge for Italy.
In the seventh end Sweden again went for a set up with guards. Unwilling to run risks Italy still went for takeouts. Italy following this kept a slight initiative in an open position. Also starting to practice takeouts, Sweden had few problems to get rid of the Italian center stones. Two Swedish stones in the backdoor area of the house gave Italy a notable risk in case of mistakes and reduced the danger for another 0–0 end. With their sixth stone Italy went for another draw shot, again establishing a stone close to the house center. Sweden again removed it with a takeout, leaving three Swedish stones alone in the house. The situation demanded accuracy from Retornaz. He tried to hide his second last stone behind the remaining Italian guard at the left side of the center. Edin by a precise stone removed the Italian stone. Retornaz in turn had to make an accurate stone to win this end 1–0 – which he by a small margin succeeded to do. Sweden did a good job to create counterplay this round, although it was still not enough to steal a point. Taking over the hammer for a one point price at this stage still qualified as a small step forward from a Swedish point of view. This especially as two standard 1–0 wins for the hammer team now would give Sweden the hammer for a probably decisive tenth end. Despite an Italian lead at 3–2 after the seventh end, the outcome now was wide open.
Back in the defender´s position, Italy first did fine in a half open eight end, establishing a two versus one majority and the best stone in the center area. Sweden removed the best Italian stone, but Italy also did well with their takeout – leaving one Italian stone behind a guard. The Swedish takeout removed the guard, but not the center stone. Sweden´s fifth stone however opened the position, leaving an empty house when both teams had two stones left. The skip duel following this started with a zero and soon ended with a draw. Retornaz demonstrated that he could land two draw shots in the middle of the center. Edin to balace this demonstrated that he could remove two stones from the middle of the center while also removing his own stone afterwards. This 0–0 result, keeping Italy ahead 3–2 on the scoreboard, qualified as a small improvement from an Italian point of view. The match moved closer to a situation in which the Italians could drop one point in the ninth end and play for win with the hammer in the tenth.
The Swedish favourites following this were under some pressure from the start of the ninth end. Sweden established two stones in the center, while Italian established two guards. Italy then removed one of their own guards, wasting time and leaving Sweden with a proming initiative. The position however now was fairly open. Italy´s fourth stone was a partly sucessfull try for a double takeout – hitting out one of the Swedish stones and removing the other one from the center zone of the house. Sweden now went for a strategy with scattered stones inside the house, hoping one of them could turn out to be a second point in the final position. Italy by their fifth stone meanwhile established a new best stone, although this was neither very close to the center or difficult to remove. Sweden increased the pressure by hitting their own best stone gently with the eight stone, leaving Sweden with the two best stones and a total of four stones inside the house.
Italy´s sixth stone in the tense ninth end was a sound takeout, simply removing Sweden´s best stone and leaving Italy with the two best. At this stage it was pretty clear that this could not end up as another 0–0 end. This left the very important question about whether Sweden would win one or two points (while losing one obviously would be losing at this late stage). Sweden´s third player Oskar Eriksson with his last stone removed the best Italian, although Italy still had the best stone in a tense situation. Both teams had six minutes left on the clock, playing under a slight but still stressing time pressure. The Swedish team again was talking much and open. They were playing for a 2–0 win, while the Italian players were more secret and silent at this stage. Italy´s second last stone did not change too much, while Sweden´s second last stone successfully hit out the best Italian stone. This left an open center with Sweden having the two best stones. Retornaz under pressure went for a takeout, but failed to remove all the three Swedish stones on the left side of the house. Edin´s final draw shot was safe for a 2–0 win instead of a risky try for 3–0.
Following this the teams had reached a classical and very exciting situation before the tenth end, as Sweden now had a 4–3 lead, while Italy took over the last stone. The trend has been slightly in favour of Sweden. 1–0 leading to an eleventh end with a Swedish hammer now was considered the most likely aming the spectators, while 2–0 leading to an Italian win and 0–0 leading to a Swedish win both obviously were possible. The start was a bit awaiting. Italy established a guard and one stone just inside the house at the right side of the center. Sweden hit out the Italian stone, leaving their own new stone just inside the house. Italy used the same guard again, placing a new best stone at the right side of the center. A tense struggle continued as Sweden made a new best stone on the right side, just ahead the Italian. Italy´s answer was double edged and probably slightly inaccurate, leaving Sweden with the better stone. Sweden´s sixth stone increased the pressure, hiding a new stone on the left side of the center, partly behind the Swedish guard. Italy´s reply was a close to but still unsuccessful try to remove this new Swedish stone. The Swedish players now obviously and very understandably were eager to eliminate the risk for a 0–2 loss. They eventually succeeded, as Edin with his second last stone hit out the Italian center stone. Italias second last stone was a draw shot stopping inside the center area, but maybe a little long. Sweden had 20 seconds left on the clock when setting their final stone. It was a successful draw shot, leaving Sweden with the three best stones.
The Swedish strategy had been a success as Retornaz now at best could make a 1–0 win, and even this required an accurate draw shot to land in between the three Swedish stones on the center. If he suceeded there would be an eleventh end on the Swedish premises. If he failed there would be a Swedish win outright.
Retornaz releases his last stone quietly, with 30 seconds left on the clock. It feels like it takes about 30 seconds for the draw shot to pass over the ice and reach the house. For sure it feels eternal for the players as well as the fans of both teams. The direction looks good, but I wonder whether it is hard enough? So do the Italian teammates, sweeping hard to increase the speed. The stone is still moving, but about to slow down, when it reaches the house. For a second or so it seems the last stone can just make it. Then it just don´t make it. The Italian stone stops a few centimetres too early. This obviously is the end of the match. Sweden wins 2–0 in the final end and 6–3 in the match. Håkons hall is silent for a few seconds more, before the Swedish fans starts their cheering and the players congratulate each other.
Like yesterday, I after this semifinal felt a good deal of sympathy for the winning team as well as for the losing team. Both had behaved great throughout the championship and had a long way to reach this point. Then in the end it was all decided within a few seconds and a few centimetres. That´s the law of the game and everyone of course accept that. Italy can still win a bronze medal tomorrow. But Sweden, despite a demanding start on this tournament and a hard set back in the third last round, after all has the better team and once more have qualified for in a big championship final.
Seen in retrospect I see many similarities between this first semifinal in the men´s tournament today and the second semifinal between Germany and Scotland in the women´s tournament yesterday. Again the underdog made the better first half, although the favourites still won in the end after the tide gradually turned in their favour. Again the official score in the end was a bit misleading, for a tense semifinal decided on the final stone. Curling is a very exciting sport to follow – and this so far is a very tense curling championship.
Second pass: Men´s second semifinal!
The Scotland team was one of two gold medal favourites before this championship. Then they made it even better than the high expectations during the round robin – winning all their nine matches without ever being in serious danger of losing. The home favourite sons from Norway made a very promising start by winning their first two matches, but later had a jumpy travel with notable ups and downs. Norway was running around the borderline to reach the semifinals for the second half of the round robin. In the end the team finished fourth, following five won and four lost matches – despite losing the final match against Scotland with 3–8. For good and for bad, everyone except (possibly) a few die hard Norwegian fans had Scotland as a big favourite in this match.
The first end was considered more important in this match than in most other curling semifinals. Scotland (very well deserved) started up with the hammer advantage following their first place in the round robins, and had moved ahead from the start in several of their matches then. This included yesterday´s match against Norway, which was more or decided as Scotland was up 3–0 after the first two ends.
Both teams played ambitious from the start of the first end, reaching a closed position with five stones pushing each other in the center. Norway had the best of these stones, and tried to save it from takeouts by placing two guards ahead the house. The fifth stone of Scotland was a takeout, succeeding to remove both the guards. The position became more open following this, but Norway still had the best stone before the second stone of Scotland´s vice-skip Grant Hardie. He by an accurate draw shot succeeded to remove the best Norwegian stone. That stone stayed inside the house and Norway had an open line to remove the best Scottish stones and/or place a new stone in the center. Norway creative skip Steffen Walstad went for a draw shot leaving a half-open and rather loose position in the center, with Scotland still having the best stone.
Scotland´s skip Bruce Mouat is his first stone of the final accurately push the new Norwegian stone some centimetres out, leaving Scotland with the two best stones before Norway´s last shot. Walstad´s obvious choice in this position was to place a new best stone in the center, squeezed in between the two Scottish stones. Mouat´s final stone following this was important and could lead to +3 as well as –1 for Scotland. Mouat hit the tone with a perfectly timed takeout, pushing aside the Norwegian stone to make the first end a 3–0 win for Scotland. The small but loud Scottish fan club for obvious reasons was very well satisfied, while one Norwegian fan in my section already talked about leaving.
The second end also made an interesting and asymmetric opening, as Norway went for one guard and one center stone on the center-right side of the house. Sweden meanwhile tried to get as many stones as possible into the hourse on the center-left. The first Norwegian try to remove some of the Scottish stones came on their third stone, but failed. Scotland in turn hit back against the Norwegain guard, opening the position. Successfully continuing their counterattack on the center-right, Scotland after the first five stones from each side had the best stone, placed exactly on the center house. Their next stone was a takeout removing the best Norwegian stone, leaving three yellow Scotland stones in the center.
Norway´s vice skip Torger Nergaard succeeded to remove the best Scottish stone. Scotland in turn removed the new Norwegian stone – again leaving three yellow stones in the center before Norway´s second last stone. Walstad hit out the best Scottish stone, after which Mouat placed a third stone in the center. Norway following this had an open route to a 1–0 win, but no chances whatsoever for more – and a mistake now would more or less lose the match. Walstad kept his nerves and saved it with an elegant takeout. Scotland at 3–1 with the hammer, following this of course had a promising starting point for the early middle game. On the plus side from a Norwegian point of view, their score against Scotland so far was one point better than in the match from yesterday.
Scotland went for a center dominance from the start of the third end, while Norway built a guard line ahead the house. The center opened as Scotland spent their fifth stone on a takeout, while Norway´s answer was another guard to protect their center stones. Scotland removed the guard, although Norwegian immediately installed a new one. Hardie´s final stone of this end however was a masterstroke, removing the Norwegian guard and forcing the best Norwegian stone out of the center zone. This left Scotland with the two best stones in a now open center. The Norwegian skip removed one of the Scottish stones, reducing the risks, but still leaving Scotland on schedule for a 2–0 win. Well satisfied to increase the lead, Mouat simply removed the new Norwegian stone. This left Norway more or less without possibilities to avoid a 0–2 loss, as Scotland had two scattered stones in the center. Walstad however succeeded to make it as difficult as possible for Mouat, hitting out one of the yellow stones and rolling over to place his own stone as the best. Mouat found the line to hit out the Norwegian stone and win two points, but failed to reach more than one point as his own stone rolled out. Scotland again had a strong pressuret his round, but Walstad´s creative defence saved a good result for Norway – now getting back the hammer at 1–4.
Photo: Celine Stucki
The fourth end had an opening rather close to the second, with Scotland playing center-left and Norway center-right. Scotland then made a positional approach, investing their third stone in a guard. The struggle for the center intensified as Norway succeeded to sneak through a stone in between the guards. Having got the best stone, Scotland tried to lock down the position with another guard. Norway successfully passed the guards on the left side to establish a new second best stone. Hardie again improved Scotland´s chances with a very good shot, following the route of the last Norwegian stone to remove it and establish two Scottish stones in the center.
During the next few stones Norway tried to break up the guards, while Scotland tried to strenghten them. Nergaard on his second stone suddenly accelerated with a hard takeout, opening a line against the center, but failing to hit out any of the two best Scottish stones. Well satisfied to have the two best stones in a closed position, Mouat spent his stone as a guard to close the new center line. Walstad again had a demanding start point for his stones, but again made the best out of it as he demonstrated an invisible attacking line to hit out one of the best Scottish stones. Mouat used the now well known line on the left side to install a new yellow stone in the center, leaving Walstad in a demanding situation with a risk of losing two points. Walstad tried to curl in from the center-left, but pushed it too hard.
Mouat and his Scotland following this won two more points and reached a totally winning match position with a 6–1 lead after the first four ends. The best thing to be said about Norway´s situation at this stage was that Scotland lagged 3–4 minutes behind on the clock, with 18 minutes left for six ends, but obviously they had made good use of the time.
Scotland understandably saw no reason to change their strategy before the fifth end, and again went for an early center domination. Needing to win at least 2–0 to keep any chances in the match, Norway first established two guards and then intervened in the outset of the house with their third stone. Scotland meanwhile had established two guards and two center stones on the center-right. This of course left a door open on the left, and Norway on the fourth stone accurately used that door to establish a new best stone in the center. As 0–1 would be great for Scotland in this match situation, they first made not try to remove the Norwegian stone – instead locking it in. As Norway sent another stone in the same route, a complex struggle followed with four red and three yellow stones in the center area. This suddenly changed as Mouat spent his first stone in this end on a hard and remarkably precise takeout, leaving Scotland with the best stone and a four versus one majority in the house.
Again starting up from a very demanding position, Walstad again tried to do the best out of it – hitting through the Scottish stones to make the remaining Norwegian stone the best. Mouat however hit back with an accurate takeout, removing the final Norwegian stone to leave Scotland with the four best stones. Walstad again was under heavy pressure as an accurate last stone would only give a 1–0 win, while an inaccurate stone would risk to lose four more points. He delivered on demand a difficult draw shot to give Norway a 1–0 win in the fifth end. The first half of the match however still gave Scotland a 6–2 lead and the hammer for round six. This of course gave them an iron grip around this semifinal.
The sixth end after the break started with a well known pattern: Yellow center stones inside the house and red guards lining up ahead of it. Scotland went for takeouts to remove the guards, while Norway mobilized new guards to prepare for later attacks in the center. Mouat´s first stone was a takeout, opening the position to leave three yellow and one red stone in the house. As Scotland had the hammer, this of course gave excellent chances to win more than one point. Walstad again made his best to limit the damage, removing one of the Scottish stones and leaving two stones for each side in the house. Mouat´s first stone was a partially successful takeout, hitting out one of the Norwegian stones and leaving Scotland with the best stone plus a three against one majority. Mouat later could – and did – make it a 2–0 win with an accurate draw shot. With Scotland up 8–2 after sixth ends and showing no signs whatsoever of losing their concentration, the match was decided.
Norway used their chance to play the seventh end with the hammer instead of resigning. The opening again followed the well known pattern with Scotland occupying the center from the very first stones, while Norwag first tried to build up a guard line. On the fourth stone the center struggle intensified, as Scotland´s best stone was joined by a Norwegian. The guards disappeared following a strong Scottish takeout. This left a rather open position with one red and one yellow stone in the center – while two scattered yellow stones on the outer ring of the house gave Scotland hopes to steal more points. Scotland´s advantage grew as Grant Hardie also made a great takeout, leaving three yellow stones against one red when the skips entered.
Mouat reduced the risks further by hitting out the remaining Norwegian stones, hence Scotland had three versus zero in the center before Walstad´s first stone. The Norwegian skip made a sound draw shot, but Mouat with a fascinating precision hit out the Norwegian stone without touching any of the three Scottish stones. Walstad in this uphill battle again had a chance for 1–0 at the risk of 0–3 on this final stone. He again made it 1–0, reducing the score to 3–8. The players from Scotland of course still were well satisfied to lose only one point this end, taking over the hammer with a plus five score.
The eight end had a more open start, with Norway playing in the center from the very first stones. Having six minutes left on the clock, Scotland at this stage of course was very well satisfied to exchange stones in an open position. The end went fast forward to the skip duel, starting when Scotland had two stones and Norway one stone in the outer periphery of the center. Walstad hit out one of the Scottish stones and established a new best stones, which Mouat immediately removed by a takeout. Walstad made another precise delivery on his last stone, giving Norway the best stone. Mouat had some possibilities for a 2–0 win, but made a good practical choice to go for a straightforward takeout – winning one more point to reach a 9–3 lead, after which Norway of course resigned.
What more to say about this? Obviously that Norway´s play despite many very good stones was below their own expectations. The main reason that the second semifinal never became exciting, still was that team Mouat continued to play on a level one step ahead the opponent. Having seen ten matches of team Mouat this week, I find it remarkable that they make so few and small mistakes compared to all their opponents. Another reason for the success so far is that the four players of Scotland are very well coordinated and work together as a team, while all four are doing great individual performances. Much of course to say about Bruce Mouat, and about all for good as he has won every skip duel this week. Still it is remarkable that his starting point also has been better in about all the matces including this semifinal. Although I have been informed that Walstad had a low percentage score today, I find that a bit misleading as his starting point was very difficult in about all the ends.
This European Championship now will get the dream final with the same two countries in both the Men´s and Women´s competition. Sweden following earlier results obviously is the team with the best chance to stop this Scottish curling train. Although Sweden is the current World Champion and defeated Scotland in the final then, Scotland following what we have seen at Lillehammer this week will be the obvious favourite for the final. The Bronze final between Italy and Norway on the other hand should be considered fairly open. Italy was much closer to win in their semifinal today, but Norway had the more frightening opponent. In the round robin Italy had one won match more in the end, while Norway early in the tournament won their internal meeting 9–6.
Third pass: Women´s Bronze final!
Losing the semifinal on their last stone against Sweden yesterday, after finishing second in the round robin, Russia this evening was considered the favourite in the Bronze final by me and most others. Germany obviously was no easy opponent, having done better than expected both in the round robin and the semifinal. This Bronze final like the semifinals from yesterday was considered a somewhat double edged clash of styles: Germany still is a strategical team with accurate draw shots as their strength, while Russia is a more tactical team feared for their powerful takeouts. Regarding age the German team at the same time actually is both younger and elder than the Russian team. Team Kovaleva includes four players all aged within 25–30, while team Jentsch has a 39 year old skip and three players within 21–25.
The first end made a fairly open start, with both teams playing in the center. Germany made three tries to establish a guard, but they were hit out by a hard takeout from the Russians. Germany meanwhile did well in the center zone. After the Russians helpfully hit out their own center stones, the Germans after five stones from each team had both the remaining stones in the center. Daniela Jentsch by an accurate shot established a guard ahead the best German stone. Alina Kovaleva following this had a demanding starting point. Going for a hard takeout she removed the guard, but left both the German stones in the center. Jentsch this time went for a draw shot. As Germany had the three best stones in different parts of the center, Kovaleva was forced to make a draw shot for one point. This succeeded, after which Russia won the first end 1–0.
Both teams made an awaiting start with a guard stone in the second end. Russia then immediately established a center stone. A tense fight for the center started as Germany hit back and took over the best stone, after gently touching away the Russian stone. Russia tried to do the same back, but failed as the yellow German stone with a small margin remained the best one. Reaching a two versus one majoity in the center zone by removing the second best Russian stone, Germany after five stones had some chances for a 2–0 win. Russia went for a takeout, and was rewarded as Germany made an inaccurate sixth stone. Before the skips entered, only one stone from each side was left in the center. The German stone still was the best, but this had less importance as the Russians anyway removed it in their next move. Jentsch in turn also made a sound takeout, removing the Russian stone. At this stage the Russians could be well satisfied, as Germany had a fairly easy 1–0 but no chances for anything more. This after the takeout queen Kovaleva removed the remaining German stone in the house with her next stone. Draw shot queen Jentsch in turn had no problems to reach the center zone and eualize the match score at 1–1.
The straightforward play continued in the third end, again with Germany taking a small initiative in the early fight for the center. After getting the best stone the Germans tried to shelter it with a guard, but Russia still succeeded with a direct counterattack in the center and kicked out the German stone. Germany succeeded to get a second stone into the center area, but Russia in turned succeeded to hit out both. Following this, the red forces had a promising start on their hunt for a 2–0 win. Their advantage increased as the fifth German stone was a blunder, passing through the house without doing anything to improve their position.
The duel between the third players in short increased the Russian advantage and gave Jentsch a very demanding start point for the skip duel, as Russia now had a best stone protected by a wall of four red guards. Jentsch limited the damage by curling around a stone from the right side to the upper part of the house. Russia however still had a big advantage with chances for 3–0, after Kovaleva curled in a new best stone. With the center closed, Jentsch´s second try came on the left side, with a partial success. Russias final try to hit in a third point from the right failed. Following this both teams somehow looked fairly satisfied with a 2–0 win for the Russians. Germany was in danger of losing with three or four, but Russia got the upper hand in the match with a 3–1 lead.
In the fourth end the Russians started up with a center stone, while the Germans established a guard on the left side. Russia in turn went for two center guards while Germany came up with a stone on the left side of the center. Then Germany went for a takeout and partially succeeded to open the center, while Russia partially succeded to open the left side. Germany´s third player did much better this end, putting in a new German best stone. Russia´s third however also did her duties, first removing one German stone on the left with a takeout and then placing a center guard to protect Russia´s remaining key stone in the center. Germany now had reached a clear advantage, and this increased further as Jentsch made a very accurate draw shot, leaving Germany with two center stones partially hidden behind the Russian guards.
Kovaleva following this directed a takeout against their own guard, but failed as the guard stone passed the house without hitting any of the German center stones. Jentsch had her favourite kind of position and by an accurate draw shot gave Germany a third best stone. The Russians were obviously dissatisfied with the situation. Usually talking less than the Germans, they now had lengthy discussions around the house and then took a time-out to call in the coach. Not too surprising, their conclusion in the end was a hard takeout, succeeding to open the position and get rid of two stones. Germany still had the best stone and a free ride for a 2–0 win. Jentsch looked very concentrated and had few problems to perform the draw shot. Although the position was different the psychology of this end reminded much about the third. Somehow both teams in the end were fairly satisfied with the result – equalizing the score at 3–3 in a so far tense semifinal.
The fifth end followed some of the same path, as Germany raised a guard while Russia played directly for a center control. Something went wrong with the German plan, as they first established a center guard and then almost immediately removed it, wasting time and leaving Russia with a free center majority. Germany however hit back with a very good fourth stone, establishing as the best until the Russians predictably removed it with a takeout. The German team, like yesterday at this stage, was in a good mood and made some humourous comments before and after their fifth stone. The stone by the way was a successful takeout, leading to an empty house before the three final stones from each team. Germany established a center stone which Russia immediately replaced by a takeout. Germany in turn removed the Russian stone. The skips this time started with an empty board, leaning the end towards a 0–0 or 1–0 result. Kovaleva with her second last stone however made a cunning try for two by sending the stone to the outer left side of the house, hiding behind a nearly forgotten former German guard. She was rewarded as Jentsch missed her try to hit out this Russian wing stone. After this Kovalela by a safe draw shot in the center after all reached a 2–0 win. The first half of this tight match following the two last stones then turned into a success for Russia, establishing a pleasant 5–3 lead.
Sixth end followed some of the same path, with Russia playing in the center and establishing a best stone while the German guard system did not work out as intended. Germany however improved the situation and reached a 2–1 majority before the skips entered. Kovaleva hit out one of the German stones, but Jentsch patiently replaced it with a second stone in the center. This left two stones of each colour in the center area, with Germany having the slightly better positions. Kovaleva´s last stone in this end hit out the best German stone. Jentsch however still succeeded to win 2–0 by a small marghin, again equalizing the match at 5–5 before handling the hammer over to the Russians.
Seventh end also saw a center advantage for Russia. They got an advantage as Germany´s fourth stone was a mistake, hitting out their own stone instead of the enemy. Russia following this had an advantage, but Germany hit back and repaired much with a great shot. Russia´s sixth stone was a flashy and technically elegant triple takeout, removing both the German´s remaining stones in the house and their guard. Still this was not necessarily the best solution, as it left Russia´s remaining two stones open for double takeout. Both the skips handled the following takeout excercises very well, leading to a 0–0 outcome.
Eight round made a fairly open start. Germany established an advantage with one stone in the front and one in the backyard of the house. Something however went wrong for Russia, as Germany could establish a center stone behind one German and one Russian guard. Russia sneaked their sixth stone into the center zone, and it remained unclear which team had the best stone. Jentsch´s first stone was intended to be the best, but went a little too far and apparently did not change much. Kovaleva in turn probably played it a little short, but still fulfilled her intention to close a possible inroad for the Germans. In a tense situation Jentsch did much better on her final stone, establishing a new best stone and putting some pressure on the Russians. Kovaleva under pressure however demonstrated that she is also a strong draw shot player, saving a one point win for Russia. At 6–5 the match outcome still was shaking, with Germany taking over the hammer before ninth end.
Ninth end made a tense start, with both teams establishing one guard and one stone in the center. Russia´s third stone however ended up like a badly timed takeout blunder, removing their own center stone instead of the German. The Germans following this tried to raise guards to protect their center stone. This failed as the Russian second repaired the blunder with a well timed takeout on the fourth stone. Germany in turn succeeded with their takeout on the fifth, winning back the best stone position. Russia in this situation made a change of strategy, using a draw shot to get the second best stone. Germany came back in the driving seat with a precise sixth stone, removing the Russian stone. Russia hit back with a good shot removing Germany´s backyard stone and leaving their own in. The position had a German advantage varying between one and two points, as their sixth stone was another guard to help securing their key stone in the center.
Kovaleva following some discussions in her team went for a positional draw shot, curling in from the right to take over the position as best stone. Having six minutes against four left on the clock, the Germans discussed for a minute. Then they went for a takeout which apparently removed the wrong stone – still leaving Russia with the best stone. Kovaleva went for another right side draw shot, improving slightly the position of her first stone and increasing the pressure as a German mistake now could lose two points. Jentsch following this had a heavy pressure when setting her final stone at the score 5–6, as her final stone could give everything between +2 and –2 – while even +1 would leave Russia with a big advantage before the final end. Jentsch at her best however stood the test, neatly hitting out the best Russian stone to reach a 2–0 win.
Following this Germany had four minutes and Russia only three minutes to handle a tense tenth end. Pressure was heavy on both teams as Germany now had 7–6 on the scoreboard, while Russia would have the last stone. Germany played more accurate in the opening, reaching the best stone and a two versus one majority in the center. Russia however had one guard on the left and one on the right, which could give various later possibilities. Russias fifth stone was a thunderous takeout opening up the position and hit out everything – except for one German stone in the center. Germany with their fifth stone immediately tried to protect this key stone with a guard, which succeeded to stop the Russian stone. Germany however had an unfortunate set back as their sixth stone, an intended guard, suddenly just stopped after picking something on the ice. This happens time on in curling matches and is more or less impossible to avoid, but anyway it now came with a very bad timing in a critical situation for the German team.
Russia following this could easily remove the German stone and take over the best stone. Jentsch went for a draw shot which was partly successful, although the Russian stone remained slightly better. Kovaleva´s second last stone however was a failure, removing the Russian best stone. Germany following this before the last stone was back on the situation from earlier in this end, with a lone best stone in the center. With two minutes left on the clock, the Germans requested a time-out to discuss the situation with their coach. Jentsch´s plan, played out with 1.57 left on the clock, turned out to be a second stone ahead the first one in the house.
Then the moment of truth finally came, with a 7–6 lead for Germany on the scoreboard. Having watched the whole match, Daniela Jentsch now turned away, not wanting to see the Russian stone comng. Kovaleva true to her playing style went for another hard takeout, trying to remove both the German center stones. It was a possible but still complicated solution, as she had to hit it through a guard.
Kovaleva´s stone was hard enough with a good margin, but missed the direction by a few centimetres. When both the involved Russian stones had left, both the German stones remained in the same center position.
The German women team this year was an old skip with a new young team, not expected to reach the semifinals in this competition. They made a great start by winning all the first three matches, but in the end needed a ninth round win to advance just ahead of the more merited team from Switzerland. Obviously, for 39 year old Daniela Jentsch as well as for her three young teammates, winning the bronze medal was a big and unexpected surprise. Tears were falling as the four team members greeted each other. Reactions after the match somehow strenghtened my feeling that Germany had the strongest motivation for this bronze final, although the Russians for sure had the bigger ambitions before the championship. The Russians, although they were the favourites losing the medal today, looked much less disappointed than after losing the semifinal against Sweden yesterday. As usual in curling, both teams behaved great and it was again easy to feel sympathy with both sides.
Photo: ©WCF - Celina Stucki
The Bronze final tonight had only 25 spectators from the start, but fortunately many more moved in and well above 100 were present during the end of the drama just before 21 this Friday evening. We hope all of them and many more will be present tomorrow, as we look much forward to see the men´s bronze final between Norway and Italy – followed by two great finals between Scotland and Sweden!