‘Beach Red Dragons’ come from behind to play third ‘Golden Match’ in as many days
2014-2016 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup - Final
Stavanger, Norway, June 25, 2016. Two points away from losing their matchup with Spain’s Francisco Tomas and Cesar Menendez, Tom van Walle and Dries Koekelkoren of Belgium found the strength and composure to fight back and pull out a dramatic 2-1 victory (21-23, 23-21, 15-12) to keep their team in contention for a spot in the ‘grand finale’ of the men’s competition at the 2014-2016 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup. Later on Saturday van Walle and Koekelkoren will be playing their third ‘Golden Match’ in as many days, hoping to upset Spain’s top team and make it a step closer towards qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics – what would be a historic feat for Belgium and for a team that has been competing on the World Tour for only one year.
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On a sunny Saturday morning Koekelkoren and van Walle resumed from where they had left the day before when they twice silenced the Norwegian crowd to claim a spot in the semis for their country. They piled up a four-point lead at 16-12 before they all of a sudden started making mistakes, their opponents drew level at 18-all and Tomas/Menendez eventually cashed their third set ball to secure a come-from-behind 23-21 set win. “We suddenly started making mistake after mistake, my sets were not really good, so Dries spiked out of bounds or was blocked,” Tom van Walle explained afterwards. “On the other hand, if our level went down, they [Menendez and Tomas] kept on fighting and their efforts did eventually pay dividends.”
The second set was not less dramatic: Koekelkoren and van Walle looked on fire when comfortably leading the way 16-10, but Tomas/Menendez produced an 8-2 run to level the count at 19-19. At this stage and once again a few moments later by the score of 20-20, the Belgians were on the brick of elimination but they surged back to win the second set 23-21 on an ace by van Walle.
The start of the tie-break was also not very promising for the ‘Beach Red Dragons’ who trailed early on before making it 5-all. Slowly but surely they found back their best play, edged ahead at 9-7 and capitalised on this small lead to secure a 15-12 win after almost one hour of play.
Later on Saturday van Walle and Koekelkoren will be playing their third ‘Golden Match’ in as many days, after they went through the same journey also in their previous clashes with Greece and Norway. “We always start each tie by knowing that we are most likely to have to play two matches,” van Walle commented. “Unfortunately and we have to be honest about that, our second team is not fully professional and does not have the level to compete with most of the teams here. However, we always hope that they can cause a surprise, beat one of the top teams and make things easier for us. This match was a difficult one and actually we were expecting to win it 2-0, but much credit goes to the Spaniards who put on a great fight. This match has drained quite some energy, and we know we are getting more and more tired with each match. However, we are trying to take as good care as possible of our bodies, resting, recovering, eating properly and going to bed early. We will continue to do so since we really want to make it to the final stages of this tournament,” he concluded.
Earlier in the morning, Spain’s Francisco Alfredo Marco/Christian Garcia lived up to the expectations and pulled out a 21-14, 21-16 victory in their matchup with Bob Douwen and Robin Adriaensen to open the programme of the second semi-final. This is the kind of result many were expecting since the Spaniards have a wealth of experience to rely on compared to Belgium’s no. 2 tandem.
“There was actually quite some pressure on us,” Francisco Alfredo Marco acknowledged after the game, “because we knew we were playing their second team and we felt somehow obliged to win this game in order to get a more favourable position for Team Spain going into the second matchup. There is so much at stake at this tournament that pressure has been a factor since the very beginning of this week but I think we were able to cope with it pretty well, playing with resilience and consistency, and keeping the same level from start to end.”