All went well in Pau, France, the picturesque venue of the 49th edition of the European Team Championships, which was held there from June 14-28, 2008.
There was a great spread of the medals as no country succeeded in winning more than one position on the podium! Accordingly, 9 European countries had good reason to celebrate at the end of Europe's traditional event which, nevertheless, was organized with a brand new format in the open series.
After 48 editions, the complete round robin format was abandoned, opening the way to a new system which met with general approval. The 38 nations which contested the Open title were split in two groups, taking into account their performance in the last three European Championships. A qualifying round robin was played during the first week, from which the top 9 teams from each group emerged as finalists. The final was another round robin, in which the qualifying round results were not taken into account at all.
In both qualifying groups, there was suspense until the very last round, as there were several teams in contention for the precious top 9 positions. In the first group, The Netherlands and Italy clearly led the way; they were followed by Iceland and Latvia, as Israel, Denmark, Turkey and the Czech Republic lined up immediately afterwards. The 9th place was strongly contested by England and Finland who ended in exact tie, broken in favour of England who had won the match between these two countries.
In the other group, Sweden had no problem to finish at the top, well ahead of Russia, Norway and Bulgaria who followed. Then came Germany who had led the group for a long time; France, Poland and Portugal, while Estonia finished at the last qualifying spot without much difficulty.
In the final round robin of the open series, NORWAY, the reigning world champions (Bermuda Bowl holders), scored a clear victory, taking their first ever European team title (not taking into account their numerous
titles in the youth world). Russia piped Germany at the post to capture the silver medal with a 1 VP difference - the same that separated Bulgaria from the bronze medal. The multi-champions Italy were not in form this year, and ended in 5th place, breaking the winning tradition they had initiated in Vilamoura 1995! The last qualifying position for Europe's representation in the 2009 Bermuda Bowl went to the Netherlands.
The Women series was played traditionally in a simple round robin involving all 25 contesting nations - a clear participation record! Here, FRANCE was not seriously threatened in retaining the title they had won two years go in Warsaw, and finished clearly ahead of silver-medallist Italy and bronze medallist Spain who scored their first European women team success. Sweden, Germany and Denmark completed the list of nations which will represent Europe in the 2009 Venice Cup competition.
Finally, in the Senior series, there was a pleasant surprise as Turkey scored their first ever European team medal winning a record field of 20 nations. Turkey finished ahead of Sweden and Belgium, in a ranking list which separated the top teams by sufficient margin. The situation was less comfortable lower in the ranking table which provided Poland, The Netherlands and Italy as the remaining European representatives to the world Senior Bowl. This time, England was unlucky to have lost their match against Italy and so the final tie was split in favour of their opponents.
Pau, a picturesque town up in the Pyrenees mountains, very near France's border with Spain, proved an ideal venue for the competition, and participants enjoyed the warm hospitality of the town's population. Palais Beaumont was certainly one of the best venues ever used for hosting a European Team Championship. The organization provided by Fédération Française de Bridge (FFB) left nothing to be desired, including a non-conformistic closing dinner with plenty of good quality food which will be remembered. It was fitting that during the championship, FFB celebrated their 75th anniversary as an organization since its inception in 1933. Following Pau, players are now looking to the festive 50th anniversary edition of the European Team Championships in 2010.