Huge sensation as Denmark makes it to Playoffs, Belgium upsets Italy to claim first place in Pool A
2013 CEV VELUX Volleyball European Championship - Men
Odense, Denmark, September 22, 2013. Denmark’s fairy tale came to reality on Sunday as the home heroes edged Belarus 3:2 (25-21, 17-25, 23-25, 25-20, and 15-11) to make the Playoffs coming up on Tuesday in Aarhus as they finish pool play in third place. In the end, Odense turned into the place where the Volleyball players of the host country could make a miracle happen – similarly to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale where the ugly duckling eventually matures into a beautiful swan. Later in the evening Italy lost to Belgium 2-3 (23-25, 19-25, 25-18, 27-25, and 9-15) to finish second in the group and re-start their European campaign on Tuesday in Aarhus playing there the third ranked side of Pool C, the Netherlands. Belgium, on the other hand, got first place in the group to advance directly to the 1/4 finals coming up on Wednesday.
There was no doubt that the game was a make-or-break mission for the Danes. The winner of the match would proceed to the Playoffs in Aarhus and the tension was printed in the eyes of the Danish and Belarusian players. The first set waved back and forth with Belarus having the upper hand (8-6) in the beginning, but Denmark fighting their way back taking a 16-15 lead at the second technical time-out. Denmark did what they did not manage in yesterday’s match against Belgium at the score stood at 24-21. Yesterday Denmark could not convert this lead into a set win, but today the Danes were ice cold and closed the set at the very first opportunity 25-21.
Behind 3-6 in the second set Danish head coach Sturm took a needed time-out, trying to change the set around, but no real luck for the score stood at 5-8 at the technical time-out. Another Danish time-out at 5-12 did not do the trick, as Belarus had the clear upper hand (16-8) and hammered the set home 25-17. The third set was a great display of how important a role the mental strength plays in Volleyball. Belarus controlled the beginning of the third set increasing the lead from 8-6 to 13-8, before Denmark got the right mentality back and made it 12-15 and Belarusian mentor Victor Sidelnikov called a time-out. Denmark fought and fought and levelled the set at 19-19. Three Belarusian set points at 24-21, but only at 24-23 they converted it to the set win (25-23).
A thriller writer could not have written a better script for this match. Denmark got back on track in the fourth set leading 8-7 at the first technical time-out and 16-13 at the second. A crucial strong block by Aske Mørkeberg Sørensen gave Denmark a 21-19 lead and coach Sidelnikov called a time-out at 22-19. But Denmark was unshakeable and closed the set 25-20.
Tiebreak time – what else in this dramatic match. At 7-4 to Denmark, Sidelnikov called a time-out, which gave Belarus momentum as they levelled the set 7-7. Denmark refused to go behind and moved up 9-7, but all even again at 9-9. From here Denmark was carried away with immense help from the home crowd closing the tiebreak 15-11 and the match 3-2.
“I am so happy. I am in lack of words” said Danish captain Kristian Knudsen. “We played good in the first match, great in the second and fantastic today. So many of the guys take responsibility and perform their very best. This is a dream coming true. A huge thanks to the fans, who have been outstanding. We could not have done this without them.”
Head coach Fred Sturm: “We said before the Championship that we have to improve match by match and so we did. I am thrilled that the guys managed to rise and find momentum again after being down in the second set. A lot of credit to the team. We had only been dreaming of this, but now it is real,” he said.
The second match of the day in pool A was the pool final between Italy and Belgium – both with two wins after two rounds of action. Italy looked the stronger side in the beginning of the first set, where they had an 8-6 and 16-10 lead. But the momentum of the set switched and Belgium took the first set with 25-23 after a superb comeback.
Both teams displayed a very high level of Volleyball and fought to qualify directly to the 1/4 finals and secure an extra day of rest. The Red Dragons from Belgium had the lead 8-6 and 16-14, and opposite Bram van den Dries kept hammering holes in the floor with his right hand. Italy’s head coach Mauro Berruto called a time-out as his side was trailing 18-21, but Belgium kept cool and won the set 25-19.
Things turned around in the third set. The Azzurri got their game together, and with Ivan Zaytsev upping his figures, Italy doubled their 8-6 lead at the first technical time-out to 16-12 at the second. Belgium seemed to have given up the set, and the Italian team closed it safe by 25-18. Waterproof blocking from Thomas Beretta and company gave Italy the 8-6 lead at the first technical time-out of the fourth set. The world class Volleyball continued with opposite Luca Vettori scoring 9 important points for his team securing the 16-15 lead. From somewhere Belgium got back momentum and took a 22-20 lead. But Italy showed why they are considered one of the Championship favourites surviving to three match balls for their opponents and brought it home at 27-25.
The fans in Arena Fyn got value for their money as the second tie-break of the day was a reality. Here team captain Frank Depestele brought out the best in his team and Belgium won the fifth set 15-9. With the result Belgium finished first in pool A and Italy will have to face the Netherlands in the Playoffs on Tuesday.
“We lost to a better team today. Belgium just played better than us. No alibi there. The last part of the first set was crucial, where we dropped a big lead. This does not change our goal for the championship – it just makes the road a little bit longer,” said Mauro Berruto.
Belgium captain Frank Depestele: “I am really happy that we won. Italy is a great team, but today we found some of our best game. We were fortunate that a lot of fans from Belgium had travelled here to Odense to support us. Their cheering gave us a boost when we needed it the most, and I think that gave us the win today.”
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