A crucial match in today’s final qualifying rounds of the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship in France – the outcome of which would either have put one nation into the world top 16 for the first time ever or another out of the elite group for the first time in 21 appearances – saw Canada edge past Colombia 2/1 to maintain top 16 status since 1971.
31 nations are competing in the 24th edition of the biennial event which is being held in France for the first time. Action is taking place at two venues in Mulhouse – the Espace Squash 3000 Centre and the Palais Des Sports where, for the first time, play is taking place simultaneously on three ASB all-glass showcourts spectacularly lined up side-by-side.
The glass-court clash for second place in Pool B, behind former champions England, got underway when squad number three Andrew Schnell put 15th seed Canada ahead with an 11-4, 5-11, 11-9, 11-4 victory over Andres Vargas.
Colombia’s new world No19 Miguel Angel Rodriguez – now the second highest-ranked South American of all-time – took on Shawn Delierre and beat the experienced Canadian in straight games to level the tie.
The decider saw 28-year-old Dane Sharp, the world No82 from Toronto, take on Bernardo Samper, a 31-year-old New York-based Colombian who played his last international match over three years ago and is making his first world championship appearance.
The former world No57 had game balls in the first game, but it was Sharp who ultimately prevailed 13-11, 11-3, 11-6 after 44 minutes to give Canada the tie win.
“Big match? ‘Big’ is not the word!” said Canadian team coach Yvon Provencal. “That was a huge one for us and Dane did a great job to beat Bernardo. Andrew played really well to put us ahead – but we always knew that Miguel would be a tough opponent for Shawn, and the Colombian played amazingly.
“Perhaps Miguel wanted to impress his coach David (Palmer) who was watching from the side,” joked Provencal.
“But Dane played really well – he really wanted it!”
Now settled in New York where he works in the textile industry and is the proud father of recently-born child, Samper was disappointed with the outcome: “I was just one step behind him for most of the game – he was just more accurate today.
“There was so much riding on the match – and I’m really disappointed that I didn’t take the first game from 10-8 up. I made a few silly mistakes. It was a crucial game and one up would have given me a big advantage.
“I wasn’t far off in the next game but in the third I think I pulled something in my leg and that probably got into my head.”
Another significant tie took place at the end of the day when Pakistan, the six-time champions who crashed out of the top 16 for the first time last time, restored their position in the elite group after seeing off Netherlands 2/1.
After the first two matches were shared, squad number two Farhan Zaman clinched victory for Pakistan when he beat Sebastiaan Weenink 11-7, 12-10, 10-12, 11-8.
“We were expecting to finish second in the pool – all my players are playing well,” said Pakistan coach Jamshed Gul. “But my players are not being able to play as many matches as others on the Tour – so this event gives them a good chance to compete at a high level, which is why we are here.
“They have the ability, but they’re not getting the matches.
“Dropping out of the top 16 last year was bad for us – which is why we wanted to come back and improve our position this year to show the people back home that squash is still a major sport for us.”
A crunch tie took place at the Espace Centre where USA recovered from dropping the first match to beat Ireland 2/1.
London-based veteran Steve Richardson, 40, put underdogs Ireland ahead after a 66-minute, five-game, win over US-newcomer Dylan Murray, aged 18.
But wins by US champion Christopher Gordon over Irish champion Arthur Gaskin, and by former pro Gilly Lane over 43-year-old Derek Ryan gave 11th seeds USA the win.
“In only his second match in these championships, Dylan was very impressive,” said Paul Assaiante, the US team coach. “But Richardson just showed his experience.
“It was a wonderful lesson for Dylan – who said to me later ‘How was it I couldn’t wear out a 40-year-old?’!”
“The pace in the Gordon/Gaskin match was frenetic and Chris maintained that pace throughout. He really has gone up another level in recent months,” explained Assaiante.
“And Gilly was just brilliant – it was a beautiful match between two players who have come out of retirement.
“I’m very happy overall and very pleased for the team – they showed a lot of strength and courage. But what makes this trip so special is having Dylan with us for the first time – he makes the group feel much younger.”
A 3/0 win over Kuwait puts Scotland back into the top 16 – with impressive victories by Douglas Kempsell and Greg Lobban, plus a straight games win by Alan Clyne over Abdullah Al Muzayen in the battle between the number ones.
“Clyne and Abdullah are probably each other’s worst enemies as their styles are so contrasting – Clynie’s got such speed and the Kuwaiti has such great racket skills,” said Scottish coach Roger Flynn. “But, as they say, speed kills!
“England had better watch out tomorrow. We had a terrific match with England in the recent Europeans. Clynie made Nick (Matthew) work very hard – and he’ll be keen to do the same again.”
Last sixteen round draw:
 EGYPT v  CANADA
 INDIA v  HONG KONG CHINA
 AUSTRALIA v  PAKISTAN
 GERMANY v  NEW ZEALAND
 MALAYSIA v  USA
 FRANCE v  MEXICO
 SOUTH AFRICA v  FINLAND
 ENGLAND v  SCOTLAND
Official event website: http://worldmensquash-mulhouse2013.fr
For live streaming from all three glass courts: http://worldmensquash-mulhouse2013.fr/en/streaming-direct/