GB Teams learn their summer opponents

Wed 14 Feb 2018

One feature at Softball Europe Congresses is that names are drawn out of hats to determine groups for the larger European Championship competitions.  On this occasion, the draws revealed the opponents for the GB Under-19 and the new GB Under-22 Women’s Teams for this summer’s tournaments.

At this point, the European Junior (Under-19) Championship, to be played from 16-21 July in Stranazano, Italy, has 18 entries, while 17 teams have signed up for the European Under-22 Championship, to be played in Trnava, Slovakia from 23-28 July.

However, because teams can withdraw without penalty before 1 March, these numbers – and the groups the draws have produced -- may yet change.

Both competitions have been drawn with four initial round-robin groups of four or five teams, and teams have been grouped into bands according to where they finished in the previous competition, so that seedings are roughly preserved despite the random nature of the draw.  Two teams from each of the round-robin groups will advance to the Championship playoff stages.

The GB Under-19s, who were European Junior Champions two years ago, went into the draw as the #1 seed in their competition, while the GB Under-22 Women, competing in their first European Championship at this age level, went in as the 11th seed.  But while both teams had reasonable draws, luck if anything was kinder to the Under-22s.

Under-19 draw

In the European Junior Championship, the GB Under-19s have been drawn at the head of Group C, along with Russia, Denmark and Ireland. 

This is not an easy group, since Russia is always a difficult opponent and the GB Juniors only managed a tense 2-1 win over Ireland in the Junior World Championship last summer in Florida.  Ireland will be making its first appearance in this tournament and thus were seeded low.

Getting out of this group and moving on to the Championship playoffs is not necessarily a given.

The full draw is:

GROUP A
Italy
Spain
Israel
Netherlands
Ukraine

GROUP B
Czech Republic
Belgium
Serbia
Malta
Bulgaria

GROUP C
GB
Russia
Denmark
Ireland

GROUP D
Germany
Croatia
Poland
France

The draw is an example of how Softball Europe’s fondness for drawing names out of hats to fill out groups – a process that GB opposes -- can distort the seedings earned the last time the competition was run.  As the defending champion, and based on seedings, the second team in GB’s group should have been Croatia rather than the much more dangerous Russia.

Great Britain plans to bring a motion to next year’s ESF Congress to abolish the practice of holding draws, but meanwhile will have to live this year’s results.

Under-22 draw

Nevertheless, you win some and you lose some in random draws, and the GB Under-22s definitely had luck on their side.

As the 11th seed in the draw, GB should have had the Czech Republic above them in their group.  Instead, the draw came out as follows:

GROUP A
Slovakia
Greece
GB
Croatia
Ireland

GROUP B
Netherlands
Ukraine
Israel
Italy

GROUP C
Russia
Lithuania
Belgium
Austria

GROUP D
Czech Republic
Poland
Switzerland
Hungary

The fact that the Netherlands and Italy – generally reckoned to be the top two countries in Europe – have been drawn in the same group in both competitions won’t thrill either of them.  But this has come about, not just through the randomness of the draw, but because the Netherlands didn’t play in the European Junior Championship in 2016 and thus was seeded low, while Italy failed to enter the Under-22 Championship in 2016 and suffered the same fate.

The reason that draws and seedings matter is that all European Champion ship competitions now have ranking points at stake, and these can be important in an era where, based on WBSC philosophy and practice, the best opportunities go to the countries ranked highest in European and world standings.

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