Table tennis: Historical showdown in the Champions League – Sport
Can you underestimate someone who has won 13 out of 15 individual matches in the Table Tennis Bundesliga, the strongest league in Europe? Hardly likely. And yet the constellation before the Champions League semifinals between TTC Neu-Ulm and record champions Borussia Düsseldorf meant that everything and everyone had been talked about more than him: Anton Källberg.
It was reasonably clear with the opponent: Dimitrij Ovtcharov had not started for any German club for too many years for the Olympic hero from Tokyo to be overlooked; and with the concentrated world class that he has gathered around him in Neu-Ulm – only for them Champions League committed Tomokazo Harimoto and the excitingly talented Truls Moregardh – the TTC was considered a big favorite anyway. In addition, there was the current fuss about the TTBL bans against Moregardh and Lin Yun-ju, the fourth in the group, who left the Bundesliga illegally after Neu-Ulm’s cup success against Düsseldorf in January and thus after the change deadline (in the meantime Lin’s tenth Game ban confirmed).
Düsseldorf comes with Qiu and Boll – but Källberg is the one people are talking about
And in the Düsseldorf team? Dang Qiu is European champion from Munich. And Timo Boll is Timo Boll. But it was Källberg, the 25-year-old Swede, who put the Düsseldorf team on course for the final; who then, in a crazy second leg on Sunday, missed a huge chance to make it into the final; and who finally led his Borussia to a victory in extra time, the achievement of which actually has to be told in feature film length. Düsseldorf got into the final against Saarbrücken so narrowly that the equivalent of a penalty shoot-out was used for the first time in Champions League history: a golden match.
Neu-Ulm won the first leg 3-2 on Wednesday, both points for Düsseldorf came from Källberg: a 3-0 win over Ovtcharov and a 3-2 win over Harimoto, number four in the world. Boll, on the other hand, lost, as in the cup, to Moregardh, who was 20 years his junior, despite a 2-1 set lead and exciting points.
Düsseldorf would have needed a 3-0 or 3-1 win in the second leg on Sunday to advance directly, and Källberg started furiously again: 3-2 against Ovtcharov. This time, Qiu raised against Harimoto. It looked bad for Neu-Ulm, Boll had five match balls to make the final decision – but Moregardh fended them all off and shortened. And then Harimoto Källberg caught just before he crossed the finish line. Now everything spoke for Neu-Ulm – only that Ovtcharov didn’t close the sack against Qiu, whom he had defeated in the first leg and in the cup. 3: 2 for Dusseldorf. The golden match had to decide: Each player only one set against one of the others. Whoever wins two of these mini-games advances. Boll versus Ovtcharov, this long-awaited duel, should have decided everything in the end. But this pairing should not happen again. Because Källberg (13:11 against Harimoto) and Qiu (11:8 against Moregardh) made everything clear for Düsseldorf beforehand. After four hours and twelve minutes.