At 15, Mikael Joel has inscribed his name in the annals of table tennis history as the first player to win a competitive match for Eritrea in an international tournament.
This is the first international tournament that Eritrea will be attending since joining the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) last year.
The Sweden-based player was one of the two-man team of Eritrea at the 2018 ITTF African Championships in Mauritius.
In the first round match of the men’s singles, Mikael Joel defeated Gabon’s Andy Bringaud 4-3 (5-11, 11-7, 6-11, 14-12, 7-11, 13-11, 11-9) and for the teenager it is a dream comes true.
Having lived all his life in Sweden, a recent visit to his homeland in Eritrea gave Mikael Joel a chance to be listed among the first set of players to wear the colour the Central African nation at the country’s first present in an ITTF-sanctioned event.
“I was born and lived in Sweden but during one of our visits to Eritrea, my father enquired about the table tennis federation and he was told they were trying to form a team after Eritrea became a member of the ITTF.
So I went to their training camp and I played against eight local players and I defeated all of them. So it was there I was told whether I will be interested in representing the country at its first international competition,” he said.
The pupil of Friskolan Svettparlan School in Karlskrona, Sweden added: “I had to take up the opportunity because it is a rare chance for me to represent my country.
“So I was so excited about this and that I why I came to Mauritius. I must admit that it was a nice experience for me and I have the opportunity to see different players with their style of play.
“So wearing the colours of Eritrea is just amazing and I want to cherish every moment I spent playing here in Mauritius.”
Apart from relishing the moment in Mauritius, Mikael Joel is happy meeting Aruna Quadri (NGR) whom he described as a good ambassador of Africa in global table tennis.
“I am so happy that I am seeing one of the best players in the world to have merged from Africa.
“Aruna Quadri for me is a good ambassador of the sport and I have the opportunity of seeing him for the first time.
“I have not really had the chance to meet with him but from his conduct, he seems to be a friendly guy whose quality showed during the men’s final between Nigeria and Egypt.
“He is such a good player that I have watched virtually all his matches on video. I am looking forward to learn from him and also get some tips from him,” said Mikael Joel.
The teenager who plays in Swedish League division two with Lyckeby Btk said coming to Mauritius has boosted his confidence to continue competing in major tournaments across the world, while disclosing that he hopes to feature in the Swedish Open this year.
On Saturday, Mikael Joel will face Egypt’s Khalid Assar in the second round of the men’s singles while his partnership with compatriot – Tekel Erfem has been shown the exit in the men’s doubles by South Africa’s duo of Thoe Cogill and Shane Overmeyer in the first round.