‘Squash on Fire’ sums up the Welsh performance at the World Team Championships in Washington, USA.
Wales startled and stunned the World of squash with the sheer ferocity, passion, power and quality of their challenge at the newly opened and aptly named Squash on Fire centre.
The four-man Welsh squad swept aside a number of higher-seeded teams to earn their place in the last four for the first time in two decades – and faced title favourites and number one seeds Egypt.
Their squad comprises four players ranked inside the World’s top 10, but Egypt were made to scrap and fight all the way before they edged to a 2-1 semi-final win against the pride of Wales.
Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar, the World number eight ranked more than 100 places above opponent, Cardiff-born Emyr Evans, summed up what was an intense and pulsating semi-final, saying: “Wales were on fire.”
It’s just ridiculous https://t.co/dDzB2poLWM
— Lydia Rose (@Rose_Makin) December 20, 2019
Now the Egyptians play England in the final after they won 2-1 against France in the second last four clash, while Wales can reflect in the satisfaction of their astonishing performance.
The highlight for Wales was Joel Makin’s magnificent victory against World number four Tarek Momen, the newly-crowned World Champion.
Makin, originally from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire before his family moved to Aberdare, is ranked the British number one and ranked 12 in the World.
Pre-match, Momen led the head-to-head record between the two, 2-1 – but it was Makin who was the most recent victor, at the CIB Egyptian Squash Open in November.
The Welshman took the opening game and had two game balls from 10-9 to open a two-game lead, but Cairo conqueror Momen drew level after converting his third game-ball.
Boys are gutted to lose in the Semi Final but they put a fantastic effort up against Egypt. Can hold their heads up high coming home with a bronze medal. They did themselves and Wales proud. @JoelMakin @pvdcreed @EmyrevoEmyr @owaint016 @BBCSportWales pic.twitter.com/2AdiYLrA3i
— David Evans (@djevs24) December 20, 2019
Making regained his grip on the match by winning the third game 11-2, but Momen drew level for the second time.
The rivals produced squash of the highest quality in the decider, cheered on by a packed and appreciative crowd inside Squash on Fire.
Remarkably, from a position of three points behind, underdog Makin slowly climbed closer to the winning line until his jubilant Welsh team-mates erupted with joy when he sealed the match 11-9, 13-15, 11-2, 4-11, 11-9 after 76 minutes.
“In the fifth I just had to get back to that solid base that I had at the start of the match,” said Makin. “I let him go way too easily in that fourth game and he took a really quick lead.
“I needed to get back to basics and get the middle of the court back off him, take it in when I wanted to and not be so reactive.”
World number three Karim Abdel Gawad took the next match, beating Caerphilly-born Peter Creed, who plays out of Rhiwbina SRC, 12-10, 11-3, 11-7.
From 3-8 down in the first, Gawad wins to make it Egypt 1-1 Wales …
Karim Abdel Gawad 3-0 Peter Creed 12-10, 11-3, 11-7 (32m) pic.twitter.com/QiCgVT2arY
— World Squash Champs by SquashSite (@WCsquash) December 20, 2019
Mohamed Abouelghar, the World number eight who is ranked more than 100 places above his opponent, defeated Emyr Evans 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7 in 51 minutes to put Egypt through to the final for the fifth time in a row.
“I’m feeling great,” said Abouelghar. “It was an incredible first match from both Tarek and Joel, so I thought I have to get ready and I knew Wales were going to be on fire with nothing to lose.
“I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but I’m happy with how I dealt with it.
“After the third game I thought I would have to get back to basics and not rush. He was going for everything and it was all paying off, I just had to be accurate and stay with him.”
England and France have been battling each other for supremacy in the championships since 1985 and this year are marked their fifth semi-final clash in 16 years.
It's Bronze for Wales and the Final for Egypt …
Mohamed Abouelghar 3-1 Emyr Evans 1-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7 (51m) pic.twitter.com/oeb2KFbKJj
— World Squash Champs by SquashSite (@WCsquash) December 20, 2019
A packed crowd saw new top string Adrian Waller put second seeds England ahead after a tight straight games victory over Frenchman Gregoire Marche.
James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier clashed in a match-up of two former World number ones. This was the 44th international confrontation since first meeting in the British Junior under-16 Open semi-finals 21 years ago.
Former World Champion Gaultier was making a return to the international stage after a 14-month injury lay-off – and had only had the benefit of two weeks on-court action before arriving in Washington.
He ground out an 11-8, 11-5, 11-5 victory – his career 28th win against the Englishman – to level the tie for France.
Then, in a remarkable turnaround, squad number four Declan James clinched a 2-1 victory for England, beating Mathieu Castagnet 11-6, 11-6, 11-7 to put England into the final for the fourth time in a row.
“I’m lost for words, it’s one of those moments that you maybe get a couple of times a season,” said an ecstatic James.
“My mindset was what helped me to win, before I went onto the court I didn’t put pressure on myself – the team didn’t put pressure on me, they just told me to go out there and put a performance in.”
England coach David Campion described James’ win as a ‘World class performance at any level.’
“We showed faith in Declan. Daryl (Selby) is captain and we had a chat. It was a 50-50 thing between Daryl and Declan – and we decided to go with Declan.
“He’s going to be around in two years and we wanted to give him this experience, win or lose. It was a tough situation for Declan, a one-all situation, playing in the world teams and he produced at an unbelievable level.
“By any standards, that was absolutely World class. It was testament to his character – we showed faith in him and he repaid that just now. We are absolutely delighted, for him and the team.”
— Edgbaston Priory Squash Club (@EPC_Squash) December 20, 2019
World Squash Team Championship semi-final results at the Squash on Fire Centre, Washington DC:
 EGYPT bt  WALES 2-1
Joel Makin (WAL) bt Tarek Momen (EGY) 3-2: 11-9, 13-15, 11-2, 4-11, 11-9 (76m)
Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Peter Creed (WAL) 3-0: 12-10, 11-3, 11-7 (32m)
Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) bt Emyr Evans (WAL) 3-1: 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7 (51m)
 ENGLAND bt  FRANCE 2-1
Adrian Waller (ENG) bt Gregoire Marche (FRA) 3-2: 11-9, 11-5, 8-11, 4-11, 11-6 (75m)
Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-8, 11-5, 11-5 (43m)
Declan James (ENG) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-7 (48m)
There have been 23 nations competing in the 26th edition of the championships, hosted by US Squash, at Squash on Fire, the new state-of-the-art eight-court facility in the US capital.
"He was off to the White House, @TkMomen!"
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) December 20, 2019
World Team Championships, other day six results:
5th – 8th place play-offs:
 GERMANY bt  SCOTLAND 2-0
Simon Rösner (GER) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 3-0: 11-6, 11-9, 11-5 (40m)
Raphael Kandra (GER) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-1: 8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-9 (49m)
 NEW ZEALAND bt  SPAIN 2-0
Paul Coll (NZL) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 3-1: 9-11, 11-9, 11-3, 11-6 (60m)
Campbell Grayson (NZL) bt Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) 3-1: 11-5, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9 (55m)
9th place play-off:
 MALAYSIA bt  AUSTRALIA 2-0
Eain Yow Ng (MAS) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS): 3-2: 12-14, 11-6, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4 (49m)
Ivan Yuen (MAS) bt Rex Hedrick (AUS) 3-0: 13-11, 11-4, 11-8 (53m)
11th place play-off:
 HONG KONG CHINA bt  SWITZERLAND 3-10
Leo Au (MAS) bt Dimitri Steinmann (SUI) 3-0: 11-4, 11-9, 11-8 (37m)
Max Lee (MAS) bt Reiko Peter (SUI) 3-2: 7-11, 11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 11-9 (47m)
Tsz Fung Yip (MAS) bt Cédric Kuchen (SUI) 2-0: 11-8, 11-6 (15m)
13th – 16th place play-offs:
 USA bt  ARGENTINA 2-1
Todd Harrity (USA) bt Robertino Pezzota (ARG) 3-1: 11-5, 8-11, 11-6, 11-7 (48m)
Leandro Romiglio (ARG) bt Andrew Douglas (USA) 3-1: 11-6, 7-11, 14-12, 11-4 (63m)
Christopher Gordon (USA) bt Gonzalo Miranda (ARG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-4, 11-3 (33m)
 CANADA bt  KUWAIT 2-1
Shawn Delierre (CAN) bt Ammar Altamimi (KUW) 3-1: 5-11, 11-7, 12-10, 11-9 (50m)
Abdullah Al Muzayen (KUW) bt Michael McCue (CAN) 3-0: 11-5, 11-8, 11-8 (34m)
David Baillargeon (CAN) bt Ali Alramezi (KUW) 3-0: 11-5, 11-4, 11-2 (27m)
17th – 20th place play-offs:
 JAMAICA bt  COLOMBIA 2-1
Christopher Binnie (JAM) bt Juan Camilo Vargas (COL) 3-0: 11-7, 11-9, 11-6 (34m)
Lewis Walters (JAM) bt Ronald Palomino (COL) 3-1: 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-5 (49m)
Erick Herrera (COL) bt Bruce Burrowes (JAM) 2-0: 11-2, 11-6 (11m)
 IRELAND bt  SOUTH AFRICA 2-0
Sean Conroy (IRL) bt Jean-Pierre Brits (RSA) 3-2: 11-7, 14-12, 9-11, 3-11, 11-4 (54m)
Arthur Gaski (IRL) bt Christo Potgieter (RSA) 3-0: 13-11, 11-8, 11-0 (30m)
21st – 23rd place play-offs:
 NIGERIA bt  SINGAPORE 2-1
Babatunde Ajagbe (NGR) bt Samuel Kang (SGP) 3-1: 11-9, 12-10, 0-11, 11-5 (37m)
Sodiq Taiwo (NGR) bt Chua Man Tong (SGP) 3-0: 11-6, 12-10, 11-3 (28m)
Brandon Tan (SGP) bt Ehimen Ehalen (NGR) 3-0: 11-4, 11-9, 11-6 (22m)
 EGYPT v  ENGLAND
 FRANCE &  WALES
5th place play-off:
 GERMANY v  NEW ZEALAND
7th place play-off:
 SCOTLAND v  SPAIN
13th place play-off:
 USA v  CANADA
15th place play-off:
 ARGENTINA v  KUWAIT
17th place play-off:
 JAMAICA v  IRELAND
19th place play-off:
 COLOMBIA v  SOUTH AFRICA