Skip David Murdoch and his Scotland rink are proving to be the team to beat at the European curling championships in Basel, Switzerland, despite playing most of the event with borrowed equipment.
One day after suffering their only loss of the tournament, the defending world champions crushed Ireland 7-1 to earn a berth in Friday's one-two playoff match.
Scotland is guaranteed at least a bronze medal, as there is no third-place playoff in the ECC format.
Travel misadventures gave Murdoch and his foursome trouble earlier this week:A broom bag containing the squad's carbon-fibre and nylon brushes, worth about $300 US each, was lost in transit.
Forced to play with borrowed brushes from the Swiss women's team, the Scots eventually purchased new equipment, saying they were tempted to send the bill to the airline that lost their brooms.
In Wednesday's match, Murdoch, the 2003 European champion, led Ireland's Robin Gray 5-0 after just three ends, and finished the match after six.
The Scots lead the field at 7-1 with one match still to play. Their onlyloss cameon Tuesday, a 9-7 decision to Denmark.
"It's good to get back on top, that was the plan today," Murdoch said. "We wanted to make sure we got the win to guarantee one-two for the playoffs."
Podium finish assured
The squad's primary goal of finishing in thetop seven— to qualify for March'sworld championships in Edmonton — was met long ago. Now, with a podium finish assured, the personable full-time curler from Lockerbie has his sights on gold.
"Oh yeah, we're not here to come into any other position," Murdoch said. "We're on track, we're here to win."
In other matches, Germany's Sebastian Stock made a sharp angle-raise takeout to score three and eventually dispatch Switzerland's Andreas Schwaller 6-3, while France's Thomas Dufour walloped Finland's Markku Uusipaavalniemi 6-2. Norway's Thomas Ulsrud was also a winner, 7-5 over Adrian Meikle of Wales, and Sweden's Per Carlsen beat Johnny Frederiksen of Denmark 7-5.
The Swiss hold second place at 6-2, while Germany, Norway and Sweden are third at 5-3. Finland is at 4-4 with only an outside shot at qualifying for a playoff spot.
In women's play, Russia continued their relentless March toward Friday's playoffs with a 9-6 win over veteran Andrea SchÃ¶pp of Germany. Russia has won all eight games without a loss, while Germany is now mired in a four-way tie for second place with Italy, Switzerland and Sweden. Denmark and Scotland, represented by 2002 Olympic champion Rhona Martin, are both at 4-4.
Switzerland's Mirjam Ott has won five in a row after opening with three losses, but her team is still searching for consistency.
Things got downright strange in the morning draw. While delivering her winning shot against the Netherlands, Ott fell down during her delivery and sprawled across the ice. The resulting miss handed the shocked Dutch a steal of three points and forced an extra end. Ott recovered her composure to win the game 6-5.