Table Tennis: England assault on twin peaks: European League

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S men's and women's teams are expecting their most successful night ever in the European league tonight. Steered by the husband and wife team of Don (the men's manager) and Jill (the women's coach) Parker, both teams stand on the verge of reaching their finals.

The men play Belgium in Liege in the first of a two-leg semi-final and, simultaneously, the women go to St Georges des Coteaux where they are favourites to beat France. If they do, it will leave England's women top of their group and put them straight into the final. That looked virtually impossible at the start of the season. If both the men and the women manage to reach the final, it would be a better achievement than when England were runners-up in 1981 in the then combined men's and women's European league.

Surprising 4-1 wins over Sweden and Hungary have owed much to Lisa Lomas, the European silver medallist who produced a career best performance beating the former European champion, Csilla Batorfi, and coming within two points of reversing the result of her European singles final against Bettine Vriesekoop.

A defensive player, Lomas has been fortunate that her style is similar to that of Jill Parker, who has thus been more easily able to pass on some of the knoweldge and skill that made her England's last world top 10 woman. 'Lisa has improved because she has developed her attack and counter-attack, which is even more important today than when I played,' Jill Parker said.

Jill coaches by experience; Don, a Loughborough graduate, is an articulate theorist. Both believe they will be successful with squads which in France include Alison Gordon and Andrea Holt, and in Belgium Chen Xinhua, Carl Prean, Matthew Syed and Alan Cooke.

Chen, the other England No 1, could provide the night's best contest and the match which may decide whether England's men take an advantage with them to the home leg in February. The former World Cup winner should play the world No 2 Jean-Michel Saive.