11 national teams from Europe competed at the Women‘s World Championship in Surrey, Canada, July 15 – 24. There were total of 30 teams attending the competition, the 31st team, Pakistan, didn’t make it to Canada. The Netherlands placed fourth and achieved their best-ever result at a World Championships; moreover, this also equals to the best ever result for any European team.
The tournament was open for any national teams to enter, which, of course, affected the competition in many ways. There were a number of teams whose softball development programs are just in their beginnings. But also the number of high-quality teams had increased, and some of the best teams had to be left out of the top eight, e.g. Australia or Puerto Rico.
Basic round robin
In the first phase of the tournament, all teams played their opponents within round robin pools, which consisted of four (or three) squads. Best two teams from each group advanced to the top 16 (Championship bracket). Remaining 14 teams played in the Placement bracket.
Only three European teams made it to the top 16: Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands.
Italy advanced from second place in their pool after losing 8 – 7 to New Zealand in a nerve-wrecking nine-inning game.
Also GB placed second in their first round robin pool after losing only to Canada 0 – 3.
The Netherlands made it to the top 16 as the strongest team of their round robin pool. They won 2 – 0 against the Czech Republic and didn’t experience any troubles in their game against Philippines.
In the Championship round robin pools, the teams competed for top two spots again, from there, the best eight teams of the Championship were determined.
Having advanced from the first place, the Netherlands had to beat at least two of their three opponents to advance further. They beat Brazil 9 – 3, Cuba 9 – 1 and advanced to the top eight, even though they had experienced a close loss to Mexico 2 – 3. In the Netherlands vs Mexico game, the Dutch only scored on two solo homeruns by Versluis and van Gurp.
Team GB did not advance to the top eight, but through their performance the players proved they belong in the top 16. They were sad after losing 2 – 4 to Japan, having experienced the chance of winning a game against the reigning World Champion. They also played a very tight game with Chinese Taipei, but lost 1 – 2.
Italian squad lost to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Canada and their hopes for placing in the top eight were ruined.
The Netherlands wanted to get a medal at this Championship. They won their first round robin group and then advanced from the second place in their Championship round robin to the top eight. From there, every game was a do-or-die and enabled them to advance higher in the standings.
To advance to the top six, the Netherlands needed to beat team New Zealand. The Dutch won the game 8 – 2 and tied their historically best result – sixth place.
Another opponent was waiting for the Netherlands on their way to the top four – Venezuela, who beat strong Canada earlier in the tournament. The Dutch started off strong and scored two runs already in the top of the first, and they never let go of the lead until it secured them a spot among the best four national teams in the World.
Another win would mean the dream becoming true for the Dutch, one more win and the Dutch would take medals.
While Japan and USA played for the direct route to the final, the Dutch needed to defeat Canada to stay in the medal hunt. Canada, being the hosting team of the tournament, didn’t allow the Dutch to keep their hopes alive for long and won convincingly 9 – 2.
The Netherlands placed fourth and achieved their best-ever result at a World Championships; moreover, this also equals to the best ever result for any European team.
Italy and Great Britain played for the best possible position in the final standings. GB was paired up with Brazil and played a very tight game, but in the end, Brazil won the game 1 – 0 and Great Britain placed 13th.
Italy could also advance to play for a better final ranking. The advancement was however only possible through defeating Australia. Italian players did exceptionally well, they gathered six hits throughout the game, while Australians only hit twice. It was a bad luck for team Italy, that one of the Australian hits was a solo homerun by Stacey Porter, which brought in the only run of the game. Italy lost 0 – 1 and placed 14th.
None of the remaining teams made it to the Championship bracket, so there were eight European teams playing in the Placement bracket.
The system of the Placement bracket was identical to the Championship one. All teams were divided into pools and from there, the top eight was determined and the teams played for their final positions by advancing through every single win.
France, Austria, Greece and the Czech Republic made it to the Placement bracket’s top eight.
The Czech National Team couldn’t hide their disappointment with not making the top 16. The players felt that it was obligatory for them to at least win the Placement bracket and they did. They didn’t experience much trouble with any of their opponents. Only in their final game, they struggled with hitting in the first six innings. Cornelia Chwojka did an outstanding job in the pitching circle for team Austria, as well as Veronica Peckova did for the Czechs. In the end, the Czechs took 17th place.
Austrian players wanted to become ”the best of the rest” and they did everything they could to reach their goal, but lost the previously mentioned game with the Czechs, so they placed 18th.
Both Greece and France had their shot in making it to the Placement bracket final, but France lost a ten-inning game to Guatemala and Greece couldn’t beat Austria, even though the game was very tight and the final score was only 1:0. Greece placed 19th and France 23rd.
Teams in the bottom eight of the tournament were mostly working hard to seize their historically first wins at World Championships.
Serbian team was likely the youngest one at the tournament. The players collected a lot of memories and gained a lot of experience. These girls love the game of softball. Their first win was a forfeit win against Pakistan, but additional wins against Switzerland and Ireland followed, making team Serbia number 25.
If you’re looking for players who are the proudest of their origin, it’s the Irish. They waited for their first ever World Championship win until the ninth day, when they beat Israel 7 – 6 and they added one more win against Kenya the following day. Having started their fastpitch program just a few years ago, Ireland recorded a success by placing 26th.
Switzerland began the tournament with a win against Serbia, but waited long for another win in the tournament. They finally beat India, but lost a very attractive and close game to Serbia again later. Switzerland placed 27th.
Despite placing 30th, team Israel’s performance looked well. They only won one game – against Switzerland – and lost a very tight game to Ireland.
In two years’ time…
… Women’s World Championship will be held in Japan, the competition may not be open to all the teams again, and it is not clear yet, what kind of qualification the teams would need to go through to participate.
In two years, team Netherlands will have a tough task to accomplish, not only will they try to reach their medal hopes again, but having placed in the top four, everyone will think of them as of one of the toughest competitors and the journey to their dream won’t be easy at all.
Both GB and Italy showed that they can play tight games with the best teams in the World. While Italy is the latest European Champion and has one of the best softball programs in Europe, team GB gets its power mostly from players, who live in the US and play college softball.
The Czech Republic clearly had some troubles with their hitting. Will they find a way to catch up with the rest of the World? And what about Austria, will they step up their performance even more?
Also, let’s not forget about the teams, that didn’t participate this time like Russia, or Germany. They belong to the European top eight and they might want to take part in the next World Championship, too.
...and thank you to the Netherlands. You made Europe proud. Players from other countries don’t have to look up to the Americans or Japanese, they can now look up to you, because you are one of the best in the World.
8. New Zealand
9. Puerto Rico
11. Chinese Taipei
13. Great Britain
17. Czech Republic
All additional information including daily recaps, statistics etc. may be found here.
/cover photo by Ezio Ratti, photos by Ezio Ratti and Fred Versluis/