Fall of Gods in Gdynia as Belgium and Italy outclass pre-favorite Serbia and Russia
2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship - Men
Gdynia, Poland, August 25, 2012. The final round of the 2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship started on Saturday afternoon in Gdynia with Belgium causing a first sensation by cruising to a speedy 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, and 25-19) win to edge the 2010 bronze medalists of Serbia.
Actually the Serbian team is predominantly composed by players who last year claimed gold at the FIVB Youth World Championship in Argentina and the group includes also Uros Kovacevic, one of the most talented Volleyball players that have come up in recent times. Kovacevic was a member of the Serbian senior national team that participated in the London Olympics only a few weeks ago but his contribution was also not sufficient to stop the amazing display of consistency and quality provided by the Belgian players mentored by young coach Steven Vanmedegael.
Actually Serbia had started the game with the right approach and pace (9:6, 13:11) but the course of the set changed completely right after the second technical time-out as Belgium stepped up via their captain Tomas Rousseaux and wing spiker Francois Lecat to claim four set balls (24:20) and pocket the opening set by cashing their first opportunity to go for the 1-0.
Things did not change in the second set, where the Serbians looked evidently nervous and as they had to chase from behind, they regularly committed some silly mistakes in almost all fundamentals. On the other side of the net, Belgium – fired by a small group of fans, actually parents and relatives of the players – imposed their supremacy with a series of terrific blocks that stopped the way to the Serbian attackers, including Kovacevic, and with Rousseaux being the real leader on court, they confidently sailed away to finish it off at 25-21without relinquishing their lead from the start up to the end.
Serbia attempted a late comeback in set three, leveling the score at 16 all, but once again their opponents stayed cool, making the difference with their block to re-open the gap and move up by three (19:16). Probably still feeling some fatigue after his Olympic campaign in London, Uros Kovacevic was extremely faulty and eventually substituted by coach Milan Zarkovic; the Belgian block – at the end the stats registered 13 – looked like an impenetrable wall and a flurry of match balls was quickly converted via a block-out that sealed the final 25-19.
Head coach Steven Vanmedegael commented: “Today I said to the members of our delegation that I felt confident going into this game. We have scouted quite many videos and we were well ready to respond to all of their offensive solutions. Even when they made some changes to their starting six, we always reacted with the right composure, so I can only say that I am proud and happy to start the tournament with such a result. About Kovacevic, he did not play well, but you know, he first needs his team members to receive and pass well to dismantle his potential in attack and this did not happen today”.
Italy followed in the footsteps of Belgium to cause the second surprise of the day by pulling out a relatively surprising 3-0 win against the 2010 champions of Russia (25-21, 25-18, and 25-21).
Enjoying the evident support of the local audience in Gdynia, especially given the fact that their head coach Marco Bonitta (pictured) had mentored Poland women’s national team some years ago, Italy caught a flying start (8:4, 11:5) in their opening match against Russia, the nation that had stood on top of the podium two years ago in Bobruisk but with a totally different group. Italy showed very good quality and excellent variations in attack to cope with the usually tall Russian block that included also the tallest player of the tournament, Alexey Kobilev (210 cm). Italy enjoyed a margin of 6 points by the second mandatory break and Russian mentor Sergey Shlyapnikov did stop the game once more as his guys were committing a series of horrible mistakes to pave the way with gold for the “Azzurri” (21-14). Italy lost briefly composure and missed out on a series of set balls before the opening set was ultimately sealed by Luigi Randazzo for the final 25-21.
Russia came back in superb fashion in the opening phases of set 2 (5:0) before Randazzo took his side by the hand and together with Gabriele Nelli he stopped that terrific scoring machine, eventually leveling the count at 6 all. A block and a fast attack by Andrea Mattei flipped the score, with Italy going up 8:6 by the first mandatory stop, a scenario only a few would have predicted after that terrific Russian start. A lot of confusion was sparkling across the Russian defense and Italy intelligently profited of those shakes to accelerate the pace and go up 13:8, by impressing with extremely solid jump serves. After a short black-out – ups and downs are almost naturally associated with junior teams – Italy found back their best play to dictate the pace of the game also by the second technical time-out (16:12). Bombing their opponents – who had changed setter and some more players but all in vain – from the serving line, Italy cruised to a very promising 21-14; Randazzo contributed a pack of 6 set balls and Italy needed only one to cash the 2-0 (25-18) on a block by Andrea Mattei.
Italy had to come from behind in the third set where Russia asserted their supremacy up to the second technical time-out (16:11), but some intelligent moves and substitutions by coach Bonitta called for an Italian comeback with the score being eventually leveled at 17 all. As Sandro Caci finished a long and very spectacular rally, the “Azzurri” moved to the front for the first time (20:19) in that section of the game and the end was quickly approaching as Randazzo added another two points to his personal tally for the 24-21, for the 3-0 to be sealed only a few seconds later with a winning serve by Luca Spirito (25-21).
“It happens once in a lifetime to beat Russia in straight sets” said Bonitta after the match, “but we will celebrate it only for the next ten minutes and then move on to the next game with Finland. This was a good start, for sure, we know our weaknesses and overall I am happy with the quality we displayed today”.
Poland and Finland closed the program of the opening day in Gdynia with the hosts eventually celebrating a successful home debut going for a 3-1 win (23-25, 25-20, 25-20, and 25-21).
The Polish team got to the front after quite a good start and great performance by middle-blocker Bartlomiej Krulicki (4:3). Also Lukasz Lapszynski and Maciej Muzaj kept on scoring successful attacks and the first technical-time out showed the provisional supremacy of the home side (8:5). Boosted by the support of their fans, the Finns stormed back and effective blocks by Niklas Seppänen helped Finland come closer in the score. What’s more, the Finnish offense was very strong. The game was really close (13:13, 15:15) and finally after a block on Muzaj Finland got the lead (18:17). Even a great performance by Jan Nowakowski could not change the situation in favor of the team in white and red jerseys. By the end of the first set, the Polish team saved two set balls (24:20, 24:21), but it was not enough to win. Tommi Siirilä was the one who finished this part of the game via a really spectacular attack from the right wing.
The next set was a great exhibition of Poland’s fighting spirit. The Poles were focused on every ball and Nowakowski’s game was close to perfection. He kept on scoring from the middle of the net (5:3) and Poland took fast advantage of that. Together with Muzaj’s attacks Poland worked out a 4-points lead (11:7). Finland seemed a bit lost and Poland made use of that finishing each possible occasion to get a point (17:14, 19:15 and 22:16), before it logically ended in a 25-20 for the home team.
While having 1:1 in sets, the Polish team seemed to believe in their chances and showed that via Bartlomiej Krulicki’s attacks from the middle. That contributed to their advantage that was built slowly but consequently. Thanks to Jan Nowakowski and Maciej Muzaj actions, Poland moved up 17:13; the Polish game was at the same time spectacular and filled with silly mistakes. Luckily for the Poles, Maciej Muzaj finished the set sealing the final 25-20 for the provisional 2:1.
The fourth set showed that Finland was better in keeping calm and the guests lead at the beginning 6:4 with Elviss Krastins scoring constantly. Poland tried hard to keep it up and after reaching the score of 15:13 they maintained that margin up to the end of the match to cash their first win of the tournament to the delight of some 750 spectators.
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