Nigeria’s hope of gaining promotion to the championship division at the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championship has been dashed after losing narrowly to England in the quarter-final stage to settle for the seventh place in division two.
With the victory, England makes a return to the Championship division for the first time in seventeen years.
In previous meetings, England dominated Nigeria but with the fine performance of Segun Toriola, Kazeem Makanjuola, Aruna Quadri and Ojo Onaolapo in Tokyo, Nigeria is taking back its place in world table tennis.
After finishing second to Czech Republic in group E, team Nigeria defeated Turkey in the knockout stage and started the match against England on a good note when Quadri, who finished 16 at the 2014 Spanish Open beat the Paul Drinkhall 12-10, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 to give Nigeria the lead.
The win serves as good experience for Quari, as beating Drinkhall, who won the Spanish Open few weeks ago in the city of Almeria in Spain, will surely motivate him to impress whenever he challenges quality opponents.
Team captain, Toriola, increased the lead when he fought well to beat Liam Pitchford 10-12, 12-10, 8-11, 11-6, 11-6. At this stage of the match, Nigeria were favourites to qualify for the semi-finals.
But the turning point for the English team was when Onaolapo was beaten 11-5, 11-7, 11-6 by Daniel Reed. This put the overall result at 2-1 with Nigeria leading.
The win against Onaolapo brought out the best in the British players who improved to win their next two matches against Quadri and Toriola.
In the fourth game, Pitchford avenged Drinkhall loss to Quadri when he overwhelmed Quadri 5-11, 11-6, 5-11, 6-11, while Drinkhall rounded up the game with 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 9-11 win over Toriola to put the overall result at 3-2.
England captain, Drinkhall admitted that the encounter against the Nigerians remained the most difficult game for them in the tournament.
“We’re really happy to have come through, we had a difficult start to the match with me losing the first match. I think if I would have won that, we might have won 3-0; this was the first real test for our team and I am happy we made it through. I think we can take this match as positive,” Drinkhall confirmed.
Japan’s Ishikawa Juan was full of praise for the Nigerian team.
“I never expected much from the Nigerians but since the start of the tournament, they have proved to be a good team especially with what they played against England. I think they are a good side and they just need to continue in the fine form to get back to the elite division. I wish them well,” Ishikawa said.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian female team put up a good show in the classification match to avoid relegation with wins over Peru, Turkey and Israel. The wins ensured that the team remained in division two for the next edition of the competition taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016.
The performance of Nigeria will surely improve their world ratings when the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) world ranking is released after the championship.