In one of the most dramatic climaxes of the Women’s World Team Squash Championship of all time – staged before a packed crowd of partisan fans on an all-glass court in the grounds of the National Stadiumin Cairo – hosts Egypt beat defending champions England to win the title for the first time after a final which went to the wire.
England were overall favourites to retain the biennial World Squash Federation title – boasting higher-ranked players in each of the three matches. Egyptian number one Omneya Abdel Kawy, ranked seven in theworld, opened proceedings against Jenny Duncalf, crushing the world No6 11-1, 11-6, 11-9.
The vociferous crowd sensed a shock victory in just two matches when third string Raneem El Weleily twice stemmed leads by England’s world No8 Laura Lengthorn-Massaro – ranked 11 places higher than her teenage opponent. But the 25-year-old from Lancashire took control of the decider to clinch an 11-8, 5-11, 15-13, 6-11, 11-4 win – the winning match ball greeted by absolute silence from the distraught crowd.
The decider provided edge-of-the-seat drama from the outset, with England’s second string Alison Waters – now ranked a career-high five in the world – twice taking the lead, only for Engy Kheirallah, who lost her worldtop 20 ranking this month, to draw level.
Kheirallah, who won the fourth game in a whitewash, three times came from behind in the decider before facing a match-ball against her at 9-10. But the 27-year-old Egyptian won the point on a stroke, before moving on to her own match-ball at 11-10 – which she won when a ball off the back wall from Waters failed to reach the front wall.
There was immediate pandemonium around the glistening court as Egyptians jumped up and down, screaming with joy after Kheirallah’s 4-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-0, 12-10 win had given the world team title to Egypt for the first time in history.
“It’s unbelievable,” said 23-year-old Abdel Kawy, from Cairo. “It’s a remarkable achievement for the team – here in Cairo, in front of our family and friends,” added the former world junior champion.
“I guess you could say it’s the proudest day of my life.”
Egyptian IOC member Mrs Rania Elwany – who presented the trophy to the Egyptian team – was also full of praise for the event and the win by her home country: “It’s really amazing – it’s been an excellent competition. Squash is a really competitive sport – one in which the people at the top are often changing, which is good for the sport.”
In his address to the crowd at the presentations, Egyptian national coach Mohammad Medhat particularly thanked “the people who prayed for the team”.
A downcast England national coach David Pearson conceded that his team struggled with the pressure: “We expected it, but struggled to cope with it. Our girls didn’t play freely, they weren’t relaxed and didn’t express themselves the way they can.
“But all credit to Egypt – they played to their potential,” added Pearson.
Fourth seeds Malaysia claimed the bronze medal following a 2/1 upset over third seeds New Zealand. In a high quality opening encounter, world number one Nicol David dropped only her second game of the tournament in beating Kiwi top string Shelley Kitchen 13-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3. Joelle King pulled back the deficit for New Zealand after beating Delia Arnold.
But another assured performance by Malaysian number two Sharon Wee, who beat the NZ number threeLouise Crome 11-9, 12-10, 13-11 gave Malaysian their second successive third-place finish in the event.
“It’s good to see the girls play so well,” said Malaysian national coach Jamie Hickox. “We perhaps took a bit of a risk playing Sharon, as her form hasn’t been great over the past few months – but she has really raised her game playing for her country this week and today she won it for us.
“And our number one Nicol David continues to be just spectacular – she’s absolutely solid the whole way through and a great team player. She’s always incredibly focussed and really boosts the rest of the team, raising their expectations,” added the former England international.
New Zealand have been managed for the first time by Dame Susan Devoy, the former four times WorldOpen champion and eight times British Open champion: “We’re disappointed – we should have maintained our seeding, but our second player Jaclyn Hawkes picked up a knee injury yesterday so couldn’t play. But it was still there for the taking.
“We need to be fitter, stronger and tougher.
“It’s been different being involved in an event like this as a non-player. It’s good to see how the game is developing – with new scoring and many new countries involved.
“What has most impressed me is the emergence of the new Asian nations like Hong Kong and Japan – they’ve had tough match after tough match and have come back each day and played out of their skins! The sport is no longer the domain of England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand.”
The legendary Kiwi player admitted that she’d been tempted for the first time to take up Masters squash after visiting the recent World Championships in Christchurch. “I loved it – it was so good to see so many people of a wide age range really enjoying competing in it. Sadly, I snapped my Achilles tendon earlier this year, so it might be some time before I can join in.
“But we will be hosting the next Women’s World Team Championships in 2010 in Palmerston North – and I can promise you that it will be a really good event,” concluded Dame Devoy.
Sixth seeds Ireland recorded their best finish since 1990 after beating seventh seeds Australia 2/1 in the play-off for fifth place. Squad number one Madeline Perry scored a positive 11-9, 11-8, 11-6 win over worldNo13 Kasey Brown, but Laura Mylotte (suffering with a knee injury) went down to Queenslander Lisa Camilleri to take the tie into a decider.
After losing the first game heavily, Dublin-born squad number two Aisling Blake raised her game to beat Australia’s Donna Urquhart 2-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-9 in 36 minutes to bring Ireland home.
“That was an excellent win for us today – the squad worked really hard to get this far, there were no easy rides,” said Irish team manager Joan Gorham. “Perhaps the standout performance for me was our pool match against USA when Madeline fought off their number one Natalie Grainger to beat the world No4 in four games.
“Then we had a semi-injured player in Laura: it was touch and go if we played her today, but we did and she did the business for us. Also Tanya Owens, who was making her championship debut for us, is not a full-time player – yet put in some tough performances.
“And Aisling, our number two, perhaps had the toughest match yesterday when she came back from three match balls down to put us in the lead against Hong Kong,” added Ms Gorham.
In perhaps the most dramatic play-off at the National Stadium, 15th seeds Japan stretched France all the away to a fifth game tie-break decider in the third rubber against the eighth seeds in the play-off for 11th place.
Camille Serme had put France ahead by beating the Japan number one Chinatsu Matsui 11-4, 11-5, 11-9 – but the plucky 32-year-old Kozue Onizawa fought back to level the tie with a straight games win over France’s Maud Duplomb – ranked more than 150 places higher!
With supporters from both sides almost raising the roof, France’s Celia Allamargot twice came from behind against Misaki Kobayashi to take the decider into a fifth game – then saved six match-balls to beat Japan’s 18-year-old second string – ranked almost 30 places lower – 1-11, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 14-12 in sensational 43-minute encounter.
The win gives France 11th place, but the 12th place earned by the runners-up is the highest ever finish forJapan.
Final (playing order in all ties: 1, 3, 2):
 EGYPT bt  ENGLAND 2-1
Omneya Abdel Kawy bt Jenny Duncalf 11-1, 11-6, 11-9 (28m)
Raneem El Weleily lost to Laura Lengthorn-Massaro 8-11, 11-5, 13-15, 11-6, 4-11 (50m)
Engy Kheirallah bt Alison Waters 4-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-0, 12-10
3rd place play-off:
 MALAYSIA bt  NEW ZEALAND 2-1
Nicol David bt Shelley Kitchen 13-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3 (53m)
Delia Arnold lost to Joelle King 5-11, 6-11, 11-5, 8-11 (54m)
Sharon Wee bt Louise Crome 11-9, 12-10, 13-11 (36m)
5th place play-off:
 IRELAND bt  AUSTRALIA 2-1
Madeline Perry bt Kasey Brown 11-9, 11-8, 11-6 (32m)
Laura Mylotte lost to Lisa Camilleri 7-11, 7-11, 7-11 (26m)
Aisling Blake bt Donna Urquhart 2-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-9 (36m)
7th place play-off:
 NETHERLANDS bt  HONG KONG 2-0
Vanessa Atkinson bt Annie Au 11-2, 6-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-3 (38m)
Orla Noom bt Tsz Ling Liu 11-8, 7-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6 (38m)
Annelize Naude v Joey Chan (dead rubber not played)
9th place play-off:
 CANADA bt  SOUTH AFRICA 2-1
Alana Miller bt Farrah Sterne 11-8, 7-11, 4-11, 11-7, 11-8 (48m)
Carolyn Russell lost to Siyoli Lusaseni 5-11, 4-11, 7-11 (13m)
Runa Reta bt Diana Argyle 10-12, 15-13, 14-12, 7-11, 11-7 (59m)
11th place play-off:
 FRANCE bt  JAPAN 2-1
Camille Serme bt Chinatsu Matsui 11-4, 11-5, 11-9 (23m)
Maud Duplomb lost to Kozue Onizawa 9-11, 6-11, 9-11 (30m)
Celia Allamargot bt Misaki Kobayashi 1-11, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 14-12 (43m)
13th place play-off:
 GERMANY bt  USA 2-1
Kathrin Rohrmueller lost to Natalie Grainger 7-11, 8-11, 7-11 (19m)
Sina Wall bt Hope Prockop 11-6, 11-4, 11-4 (23m)
Pamela Hathway bt Claire Rein-Weston 11-9, 11-9, 11-13, 11-5 (37m)
15th place play-off:
 ITALY bt  SPAIN 2-1
Manuela Manetta bt Elisabet Sado Garriga 11-8, 11-4, 11-5 (20m)
Chiara Ferrari lost to Stela Carbonell 6-11, 7-11, 2-11 (23m)
Sonia Pasteris bt Xisela Aranda Nunez 11-4, 12-10, 11-4 (28m)
17th-19th place play-offs:
 SWITZERLAND bt  CHINA 3-0
Gaby Schmohl bt Wu Zhenzhen 11-9, 11-3, 11-0 (22m)
Andrea Lanfranconi bt Xiu Chen 11-4, 11-5, 11-5 (21m)
Sara Guebey bt Jiang Li 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8 (29m)
Final positions: 17 Switzerland; 18 Austria; 19 China