Distinguished veteran Thierry Lincou, the former world number one and world champion from France who is making his tenth successive appearance in the biennial WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship, led the hosts to a confident 3/0 win over Netherlands in the first qualifying rounds of the 24th staging of the event since 1967.
The championships are being held across two venues in Mulhouse – the Espace Squash 3000 Centre and the Palais Des Sports where, in front of a packed and partisan crowd, France took centre stage on one of three ASB all-glass showcourts spectacularly lined up side-by-side for the first time.
Second string Lincou took just 35 minutes to overcome Dutchman Sebastiaan Weenink 11-2, 12-10, 11-3 before French number one Gregory Gaultier battled for 61 minutes to quash the challenge of eight-time Dutch champion Laurens Jan Anjema 12-10, 4-11, 12-10, 11-3 to confirm the French win. Third string Mathieu Castagnet made it a clean sheet by beating Marc ter Sluis 11-4, 11-3, 11-7.
After retiring from the PSA World Tour last year, 37-year-old Lincou made an impressive comeback at last month’sEuropean Team Championships, chalking up five wins out of five, including the scalp of England’s world No3 James Willstrop.
“I really got back into shape for the Europeans – that was really the tournament for me to show myself and my team-mates how good or bad I was for a few matches,” said the Boston-based Frenchman. “And it worked pretty well, I feel.
“It was good to be back with my friends – and I’m happy to keep this going here.”
When asked how to describe his feeling about competing in every world team championship since 1995, Lincou said: “My longevity makes me feel really proud – I feel really good and I hope that my fitness at my age will be an inspiration for the guys.
“I think it’s because I love the game – that’s what keeps me going. I want to keep re-living the moment – it’s unique!”
Australian David Palmer was another former great making an international comeback in Mulhouse. Like Lincou, 36-year-old Palmer is also a former world number one and world champion – and gave fourth seeds Australia a solid start againstSwitzerland with an 11-9, 11-7, 11-3 win over 3/0 Reiko Peter.
“I didn’t know much about my opponent, but the boys gave me some background,” said the US-based Aussie number two. “I must admit I was a bit nervous, a bit edgy on there – but once it started I felt more comfortable and got into a groove half way through the second.
“It was important to get the team off to a good start – and take a little pressure off Cam.”
Team-mate Cameron Pilley went on to beat the highest-ranked Swiss player of all-time Nicolas Mueller 11-6, 8-11, 11-3, 11-9, before fellow New South Welshman Ryan Cuskelly wrapped up a 3/0 win for the team.
But Ong Beng Hee, the Malaysian number one who shares Lincou’s tenth successive championship appearance achievement, was not so fortunate in his 2013 campaign opener. Fifth seeds Malaysia took on championship debutantsBotswana, seeded in the 21/24 group.
Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan put Malaysia into the lead with an 11-6, 11-4, 11-5 win over Lekgotla Mosope – but minnows Botswana fought back when squad number one Alister Walker, ranked 15 in the world, beat Beng Hee in straight games.
In the decider, experienced Muhd Asyraf Azan needed just 18 minutes to beat tournament first-timer Koketso Ntshebe11-3, 11-4, 11-6 to give Malaysia a 2/1 victory.
Top seeds Egypt were given a stern test by Kuwait before beating the 17/20 seeds 3/0. Omar Mosaad, one of two members of the squad making his world championship debut, beat Kuwaiti Ammar Altamimi 11-9, 11-4, 11-5 before former world number one Karim Darwish resisted the challenge of Kuwait’s top-ranked Abdullah Al Muzayen 11-9, 11-7, 11-8.
“It was my first match of the tournament, which is always a bit special, so it was good to get a win,” said 31-year-old Darwish after beginning his seventh world teams campaign. “Abdullah is one of the most gifted players on the Tour – one of the up-and-coming players – and we know him well as he comes to train with us in Egypt.
“It’s great to play for my country for the seventh time in the worlds – it makes me very proud.”
But a major upset looked on the cards when 18-year-old Kuwaiti Yousif Nizar Saleh twice led Tarek Momen, a late addition to the Egyptian squad despite boasting a world No10 ranking. Momen ultimately prevailed 7-11, 11-5, 10-12, 11-5, 11-5 after 61 minutes.
“Yousif played really well and took me by surprise,” explained the 25-year-old from Cairo afterwards. “He is so quick and good with his racket – I really struggled. And I had no idea he was only 18!
“But I wasn’t expecting to be here – and took a 10-day vacation straight after the British Open,” Momen continued. “This was my first match since playing Greg Gaultier in Hull.
“We had to change the ball as the first was really bouncy – but then the second was totally the opposite, all of which was quite challenging. But I thought I played well enough to win.”
Teenager Saleh was understandably delighted with his performance: “I am very happy to have played that well – it was my first match against a top ten player. I did my best – but I didn’t expect to win two games!
“I hope I can continue to play well for my country over the next few days – but my focus is on next month’s world juniors in Poland and I hope this will be good training for that.
“It’s certainly the best match of my life so far,” continued the world No 129. “I want to thank the Kuwait Federation for helping me. I want to be the best player in the world.”
The long opening day finished with a thriller when eighth seeds India were forced to fight back from a match down to beat 21/24 seeds Argentina. It was outsider Robertino Pezzota who rocked the boat when the 30-year-old ranked 159 in the world recovered from 2/1 down to beat Indian number two Harinder Pal Sandhu – ranked almost 90 places higher – 11-9, 2-11, 6-11, 13-11, 11-6 in a 99-minute marathon.
It was midway through the match that all the lights in the venue failed, leaving the three glass courts in complete darkness.
“I was really focussed on this match as we felt we had a chance – and needed to win at two and three,” said Pezzota, from Rosario. “We don’t play regularly on glass courts so that took some getting used to.
“I didn’t play well in the second and third games, but came back strongly in the fourth, and saved two match balls before winning it 13-11 – just before all the lights in the arena went out!
“It was close to five-all in the fifth – then I raced away to win 11-6.
“It’s my third time in the world teams – but that was certainly my biggest win.
“Living in Argentina, we’re so far away from where the best squash is played, so it’s difficult. I’ve always thought I’ve been a good player, but it’s only recently – with funding from the government – that I have been able to play more tournament, and get some good results.”
RESULTS: WSF Men’s World Team Championship, Mulhouse, France
Qualifying rounds – Pool A: SCOTLAND bt [29/31] KENYA 3/0
 EGYPT bt [17/20] KUWAIT 3/0
Omar Mosaad bt Ammar Altamimi 11-9, 11-4, 11-5 (35m)
Karim Darwish bt Abdullah Al Muzayen 11-9, 11-7, 11-8 (38m)
Tarek Momen bt Yousif Nizar Saleh 7-11, 11-5, 10-12, 11-5, 11-5 (61m)
Douglas Kempsell bt Hartaj Bains 11-3, 11-1, 11-4 (20m)
Alan Clyne bt Kenneth Mwangi 11-5, 11-5, 11-5 (26m)
Chris Small bt Rajdeep Bains 11-3, 11-5, 11-3 (18m)
Pool B: CANADA bt [29/31] NAMIBIA 3/0
 ENGLAND bt [17/20] COLOMBIA 3/0
Daryl Selby bt Erick Herrera 11-0, 11-0, 11-3 (18m)
James Willstrop bt Miguel Angel Rodriguez 11-1, 11-3, 11-3 (27m)
Adrian Grant bt Bernardo Samper 11-6, 11-5, 6-11, 11-9 (54m)
Dane Sharp bt Norbert Dorgeloh 11-4, 11-4, 11-5 (36m)
Shawn Delierre bt Marco Becker 11-5, 11-7, 11-7 (40m)
Andrew Schnell bt Andrew Forrest 11-2, 11-5, 11-5 (26m)
Pool C: PAKISTAN bt [29/31] RUSSIA 3/0
 FRANCE bt [17/20] NETHERLANDS 3/0
Thierry Lincou bt Sebastiaan Weenink 11-2, 12-10, 11-3 (35m)
Gregory Gaultier bt Laurens Jan Anjema 12-10, 4-11, 12-10, 11-3 (61m)
Mathieu Castagnet bt Marc ter Sluis 11-4, 11-3, 11-7 (25m)
Farhan Zaman bt Aleksander Shilov 11-3, 11-2, 11-1 (16m)
Nasir Iqbal bt Valery Litvinko 11-6, 11-1, 11-3 (20m)
Muhammad Saqib Yousaf bt Dmitri Grishanin 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 (37m)
 AUSTRALIA bt [17/20] SWITZERLAND 3/0
David Palmer bt Reiko Peter 11-9, 11-7, 11-3 (30m)
Cameron Pilley bt Nicolas Mueller 11-6, 8-11, 11-3, 11-9 (47m)
Ryan Cuskelly bt Jonas Daehler 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 (33m)
Pool E: NEW ZEALAND bt [25/28] POLAND 3/0
 MALAYSIA bt [21/24] BOTSWANA 2/1
Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan bt Lekgotla Mosope 11-6, 11-4, 11-5 (19m)
Ong Beng Hee lost to Alister Walker 11-13, 8-11, 9-11 (41m)
Muhd Asyraf Azan bt Koketso Ntshebe 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 (18m)
Evan Williams bt Marcin Karwowski 11-4, 11-4, 11-4
Martin Knight bt Wojtek Nowisz 11-1, 11-3, 11-5
Paul Coll bt Przemyslaw Atras 11-3, 11-5, 11-1
Pool F: USA bt [25/28] CZECH REPUBLIC 3/0
 GERMANY bt [21/24] IRELAND 3/0
Raphael Kandra bt Brian O’Brion 11-2, 12-10, 11-4 (29m)
Simon Rosner bt Arthur Gaskin 11-8, 11-5, 11-5 (37m)
Jens Schoor bt Steve Richardson 11-6, 9-11, 11-6, 11-5 (50m)
Gilly Lane bt Ondrej Uherka 12-10, 12-10, 11-5 (45m)
Christopher Gordon bt Petr Martin 11-9, 11-3, 11-4 (34m)
Dylan Murray bt Daniel Mekbib 11-4, 13-11, 11-6 (27m)
Pool G: HONG KONG CHINA bt [25/28] JAPAN 3/0
 SOUTH AFRICA bt [21/24] AUSTRIA 3/0
Clinton Leeuw bt Jakob Dirnberger 11-7, 11-4, 11-3 (23m)
Stephen Coppinger bt Aqeel Rehman 11-4, 11-8, 11-7 (27m)
Rodney Durbach bt Marcus Greslehner 11-9, 11-7, 11-5 (22m)
Leo Au bt Yuta Fukui 11-5, 11-9, 11-5 (27m)
Max Lee bt Shinnosuke Tsukue 11-3, 11-7, 11-2 (26m)
Yip Tsz Fung bt Ryosei Kobayashi 11-3, 11-6, 11-6 (15m)
Pool H: FINLAND bt [25/28] VENEZUELA 3/0
 INDIA bt [21/24] ARGENTINA 2/1
Harinder Pal Sandhu lost to Robertino Pezzota 9-11, 11-2, 11-6, 11-13, 6-11 (99m)
Saurav Ghosal bt Hernan D’Arcangelo 11-7, 11-8, 11-2 (44m)
Mahesh Mangaonkar bt Leandro Romiglio 8-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-8 (51m)
Henrik Mustonen bt Miguel Mendez 11-3, 11-5, 11-2 (18m)
Olli Tuominen bt Gabriel Teran 11-3, 11-1, 11-3 (17m)
Matias Tuomi bt Miguel Vallennilla 11-3, 11-3, 11-9 (17m)
Official event website: http://worldmensquash-