The WBSC Softball Europe/Africa Qualifier, the first softball Olympic qualifier of the year, will start on Tuesday, 23 July, in Utrecht, Netherlands, with the top two African nations and the best six European countries battling for one berth in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Botswana, Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa and Spain will play the five-day tournament divided into two groups.
Group A of the Europe/Africa Qualifier includes No. 10 Netherlands, No. 12 Great Britain, No. 28 South Africa and No. 35 Spain.
Netherlands will try to advance to the Olympic Games for the third time in history. Previously the orange team competed at the Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, finishing seventh and eighth respectively. The host team must improve their European Championship performance if they want to a to advance to Tokyo. Two weeks ago, they finished the continental championship as runner up, after a tough 2-1 loss against Italy in the final. Olympians Britt Vonk and Rebecca Soumeru will guide the team in Utrecht. The infielder led her team in ten different categories, including batting average, home runs, hits and runs scored. Last year Netherlands finished eighth place in the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan.
Great Britain is looking to advance to the Olympic Games for the first time in history. They claimed the bronze medal in the European Championship in Czech Republic, they arrived unbeaten to the Super Round, but then lost to Netherlands and Italy and was eliminated from the final game. IN the Bronze Medal game Great Britain defeated Czech Republic 5-1 to earn third place. Former NPF infielder Nerissa Myers will be the most dangerous offensive weapon for the British team; while Georgina Corrick will be the main arm from the circle (she posted a 3-1 record in the European Championship, with a 2.76 ERA). Last year Great Britain ended eleventh in the World Championship.
Coming as the second place from the African continent, South Africa is aiming to become the first African nation to qualify for the Olympic Games softball competition. They lost to Botswana in the final of the continental championship, held in Pretoria on January. Last year, South Africa finished winless in the World Championship.
The fourth team in Group A is Spain, after the fifth place finish in the European Championship two weeks ago, equaling the best position ever in this tournament (1988, 1999 and 2001). Beatriz Parejo and Beatriz Alonso led the pitching staff in the event, while Estibaliz Alvarez (.524 batting average, 15 RBI), Candela Garcia (.417) and Uxua Modrego (4 home runs) were the mos outstanding offensive players during the tournament. Spain has never being present in the Olympic Games and only played in the World Championship 1994 in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.
The Group B of the Softball Europe/Africa Qualifier consists of No. 9 Italy, No. 15 Czech Republic, No. 26 France and No. 43 Botswana.
As the European champion, Italy needs to repeat the gold medal performance to advance to the Olympic Games for the third time in history. The azzurre participated in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, ending in fifth and eight position respectively. Italy had an impressive offensive performance in the European Championship, earlier this month; they led the field of teams in eleven collective categories, including home runs with 40 bombs in only 12 games. Erika Piancastelli, Laura Vigna and Amanda Fama hit over .500 for the tournament, and combined for 23 dingers. In the final against Netherlands, Greta Cecchetti fanned 12 in seven innings, with 5 hits, 2 runs and 3 walks. For the tournament, the right hander pitched 30 innings, with a record of 5-0, with 0.60 ERA.
Coming from back to back fourth places in the European Championships 2017 and 2019, Czech Republic aims to advance to the Super Round, finish in the first place and qualify to Tokyo for their first Olympic Games ever. The Czech team last played a major international event in 2016, in the WBSC World Championship held in Surrey, when they finished 17th. In the European Championships played this month, Lucie Petraskova and Veronika Klimpova shined, hitting over .350 and combined for 11 RBI. Veronika Peckova (2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings pitched) and Adela Linkova (0.00 ERA in 11.1 IP) led the pitching staff.
After ending at the sixth place the last European Championships against all the odds, France wants to surprise one more time in the WBSC Softball Europe/Africa Qualifier. Kimane Rogron and Carrie Pitcher are the stars of the lineup (.483 and .400 in the last European Championships), while Sarah Benchali and Chaline Galtner are supposed to be the starting pitchers in the first two games of the Qualifier. France played last major international event in 2016, in the WBSC World Championships in Surrey. In that occasion, the French team won 2 games and lost 4, ending at the twenty-third place.
The fourth team in the group B is Botswana after winning the Africa tournament last May. They defeated South Africa, 8-1, at Rietondale Stadium in Pretoria. Botswana finished winless in the World Championship, last year.