Finnish start to European Indoor Championships
Kuortane in Finland will carve its own niche in cricketing history this weekend when it becomes the most northerly venue ever to be used for an official international cricket championship.
The Finnish lakeland resort, where British F1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton goes to train each year, is home to the tenth ICC European Indoor Championships, a biennial event that in 2006 was won by Denmark, winners in three of the last four championships.
Starting on Friday, the three day tournament will be contested by seven nations: Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Hellas (Greece) and Portugal.
With three of the victorious Danish squad again being on duty in Kuortane (captain Finn Kleissl, Melad Navabi and Lars Flemming Boldt) as well as the same management team of Bobby Chawla and Jörg Krüger, Denmark will start out once again as favourites.
But Hellas also has a proud record in these Championships with two victories, three losing final appearances and three further semi-final appearances to the side’s credit. However, they will be bringing a completely different squad from that which competed in 2006, with that year's player of the tournament, the colourful Georgios Stogiannos, a notable absentee.
Portugal is another country with a proud European indoor record, having won three of the first four titles. Defeat in the 2006 semi-final by Hellas was a disappointment for the Portuguese after they had easily defeated the same opponents in their earlier meeting in the round-robin phase. Paulo Buccimazza will be captaining a squad which is unchanged from that of 2006 so they are undoubtedly the most experienced of the competing nations.
France is again led by the 2005 Player of the Tournament, Arun Ayyavooraju, who is the sole survivor of the 2006 squad and will be hoping to improve on fourth place in 2006.
Belgium enters a very young squad led by Jamie Farmiloe. They performed with great credit in 2006 to finish 5th in the round-robin stage and that experience may spur them to an even-higher placing this time.
Hosts Finland lost all their round-robin matches in 2006 but then rallied in the play-off stages and almost grabbed fifth place ahead of the Belgians. With home advantage they will expect to finish even higher in Kuortane.
Luxembourg took the scalps of Hellas and Finland in 2006, although they were not able to repeat that level of performance in the play- offs. However, with four of that squad appearing once again this year, they have every hope of greater success.
Situated in a beautiful lakeland location in Western Finland, the Kuortane Sports Resort consists of the magnificently-appointed Kuortane Sports Institute and the Kuortane Hotel. The Sports Institute is one of four Finnish National and International High Performance Training Centers and is managed by 1988 Olympic javelin gold medalist Tapio Korjus.
The round-robin phase, consisting of 21 matches, begins on Friday and is followed by a series of play-offs, culminating in Sunday's final.