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26/08/2012 15:00
Belgium and Italy win tough five setters to keep leadership in Pool I
2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship - Men

Gdynia, Poland, August 26, 2012. Belgium and Italy scored a couple of 3:2 wins over Poland and Finland in the second day of preliminary action in Gdynia to prolong their positive streak after the encouraging debut they had enjoyed on Saturday. Belgium was able to stand the fierce resistance opposed by the hosts of Poland while Italy fought back from two sets down to seize a match that looked almost gone. In what was a much awaited clash of the titans, particularly important after they had suffered speedy defeats on Saturday, Russia got past Serbia in straight sets and the road to the semis looks now extremely complicated for the group captained by 2012 Olympian Uros Kovacevic.

Russia redeemed for yesterday’s defeat to Italy by opening the program of day 2 in Gdynia with a 3-0 win over Serbia (25-23, 27-25, and 25-17) in what was already a kind of last call for these sides that had entered the Champs with very high expectations. Actually Russia stormed back twice in set 1 and 2 where their opponents had set the tempo of the game for most of the time before unleashing their full potential to finish it off in straight sets.  
After losing their respective opening matches on Saturday to Belgium and Italy, two potential contenders for the European title, Serbia and Russia, re-started their campaign on Sunday with the obligation to score a win not to compromise their chances to make it to the semis. These sides had heavily disappointed in their debut as they had lacked rhythm and quality in almost all fundamentals, so a quick reaction was needed to get back on track. Serbia caught a very encouraging start going up 13:7 but Russia finally found their way into the game leveling at 15. Team captain Nikita Axyutin powered his side to the front (18:17) and that gap was extended via a block-out claimed by the tallest competitor in the tournament, 210 cm tall Alexey Kobilev.
Serbia star Uros Kovacevic – a 2012 Olympian in London – restored the balance (19:19) and two blocks by Aleksa Brdovic sent Serbia back into the lead. The final whistle was not yet there as Russia fought back once more to flip the score around (23:22), Kovacevic leveled at 23 but Brdovic presented Russia with a set ball by serving into the net; the heirs of the 2010 junior European champions from Bobruisk did not dissipate that opportunity and a block on the Serbian captain sealed the final 25-23 and provisional 1:0, a first relief for the Russian crew in Gdynia.     
However, Russia trailed 5:8 in the early phases of the second set as their game – made mostly of high balls – was quite predictable for the Serbian block and coach Shlyapnikov did not miss his chance to yell around for a while, hoping for an immediate response by his guys. On the other side of the net, Uros Kovacevic was finally dismantling his potential (12:7); the Russian defense line was literally bombed by Brdovic with two aces in a row (15:9) and Kovacevic left his mark on the point that called for the second technical time-out. After some more ups and downs, and many errors from the serving line, Serbia could not capitalize on two set balls and Russia eventually completed their second comeback in as many sets with their two “towers”, Kobilev and Ivan Demakov (208 cm), blocking to cash the final 27-25.
By this moment the game had really turned into an uphill climb for Serbia, winner of last year’s FIVB Youth World Championship, Russia opened set 3 playing with good intensity (9:6) and gradually widened the gap (22:14), finally imposing their game and physical power. Uros Kovacevic was not enough to compensate for the faulty performance of his side and a block on the Serbian captain piled up a series of 8 match balls for Russia. And quite significantly it was Kovacevic who served long for the final 25-17 in favor of his opponents, with Serbia leaving the court with another defeat in straight sets, the second in two days, a scenario that only a few may have predicted before the start of the tournament.  

A real marathon – lasting for more than two and a half hours – followed on Sunday afternoon as Italy fought their way back from two sets down to eventually defeat Finland 3:2 thereby scoring their second consecutive victory of the tournament (19-25, 33-35, 25-23, 25-18, and 15-12). The second set was absolutely thrilling with Italy missing on a set ball and Finland on ten (!) before the Suomis could seal that deal at 35-33, but Italy was in good shape to surge back and win at the tie-break.
Coming from their outstanding win over Russia in the opening day, Italy got its second task in Pool I by playing Finland, the side that on Saturday night was defeated 1-3 by the hosts of Poland. This game was a remake of the match played this past April in the second round qualifier held in Bar, Montenegro, and that was claimed by the Finns with the score of 3-1.
Finland started out strong and enjoyed a pretty comfortable margin by the second mandatory stop (16:9), and even though Italy gradually found their way into the game, they still could not produce the same intensity and quality that had illuminated their fabulous performance against Russia. They reduced the gap to four points (23:19) but supported by a small group of loud fans the Finns stayed cool and could thank Luca Borgogno for a mistake that sealed the final 25-19.
The match remained close in the second set up to 11 all before Finland changed gear once more, displaying some spectacular actions especially in defense and making it difficult for the “Azzurri” to score. Even though coach Bonitta had re-shaped his starting six almost completely, Italy still trailed 17:20 as the deciding phases of the set were approaching, but their top scorer Luigi Randazzo eventually found back the right grip to call for a tie at 20. Italy leveled once more at 22 on a slightly contested ball attacked by Sandro Caci, but Finland missed out on a set ball as Tommi Siirilä served long. Randazzo was just merciless and he eventually took his side to the front by finishing an attack from the back row, Diamantini served into the net, Karl Külaots pocketed a second set ball for Finland but Mauri Kurppa missed the next serve. Finland could not capitalize on seven more opportunities for the 2:0, but the tenth attempt was successful, with the set ultimately ending with the incredible score of 35-33.
Italy apparently suffered of that knock-down as Finland opened set 3 with a flying 5:1 but their fighting spirit was not yet gone, with the scoreboard showing a 9:9 only some five minutes later. Italy even cruised past by the second technical time-out (16:14) but Finland promptly restored the balance at 17 all. Another close ending was approaching with the “Suomis” moving up 22:20 to assert their ambition to go for a possible win in straight sets. Bonitta briefly stopped the game and the score was leveled once more at 23 on a Finnish mistake… Was there going to be yet another marathon like in the second set? Not really, as Finland spiked long once again to help the Italians get their first set ball and a single block finished it at 25-23 for the “Azzurri”.
Italy stretched that good momentum to set four (8:5, 12:6) as Caci and Randazzo were dismantling their potential in offense but it was still a long way to go to make it to an eventual tie-break. By the score of 19:15, the Italians looked really “on” and motivated to pursue their goal to turn the course of the game completely around. Randazzo, a former judoka in his youth, anchored his side with firm determination to a 25-18 that called for the deciding fifth set.  
Finland opened there with a 3:1 that nevertheless did not discourage the Italians, who quickly drew level at 3; Italy’s chase started again as the teams changed sides of the court (8:6 for the Finns) while the hall in Gdynia was getting crowded with Polish fans waiting for their heroes to play Belgium in the last game of the day. Randazzo fired back Italy to -1 (9:8), the 9 all was there with an ace of Izzo; the players were evidently feeling some fatigue after such an intense match but after some more emotions Italy could complete their comeback from two sets down to score a second win in Gdynia (15-12).     

Belgium completed the program of the day in Gdynia by edging the hosts of Poland 3:2 (25-17, 20-25, 25-22, 22-25, and 15-11) to move up to the top of the standings having a slightly better point ratio than Italy.
Poland and Belgium crossed their ways on Sunday evening after claiming two wins in their opening matches with Finland and Serbia. The Poles started a little bit nervous while Belgium was brilliant in the early phases of the game. Even though Bartlomiej Krulicki and Lukasz Lapszynski played really well from the middle, it was Belgium that got 4 points of advantage at the first technical time-out (8:4). Belgium played fast balls that the Poles couldn’t defend (10:7). The Poles tried to catch up but Belgium remained focused (16:10) and even three substitutions in the Polish team couldn’t avoid the final 25-17 for the guests.
The second set started without signs of supremacy of any team. It lasted until the first technical time-out when Belgium went up 8:7. The Belgians showed that their win with Serbia was not coming from anywhere and their actions might bring head coach Steven Vanmedegael a lot of satisfaction. Francois Lecat was the leading figure at the net as well as from the serving line. The Poles, however, started to play more effectively and went ahead in the next actions. Maciej Muzaj’s attacks together with his aces got Poland leading at the second technical time-out (16:14). The distance, unfortunately for the Belgians, was only getting wider and resulted in a 20:14 just after Lukasz Lapszynski’s attack. Despite great Belgian attacks from the middle, the Polish block lead by Jan Nowakowski felt no harm. The last actions were a one-man show for Maciej Muzaj and resulted in Poland finishing this set at 25-20.
The beginning of the third set looked favorable to Belgium. They were very strong in blocking and scored three points via this element (4:1). However, a few minutes later their own mistakes let the Poles draw (4:4). Francois Lecat was not shining as before and the game of the Belgian team was shaky. Muzaj’s ace let Poland take the advantage by the first technical time-out (8:7). Both teams made a lot of mistakes, but finally Vanmedegael’s side after an ace by Lecat was closer to win this section of the game (19:16). Nothing could stop Belgium – they were more concentrated than Poland and deservedly pocketed the final 25-22.
The fourth set showed that even though the players were fighting with their fatigue, emotions among the youngsters were still high pitched. The score was often changing, with Poland up 11:8 before Belgium got to the front at 17:14 and 19:17. At that moment Poland woke up and made it 19:19. Marcin Janusz served an ace to push his side ahead (21:19) and the confidence it brought was clearly visible among the young Poles and resulted in having some points of advantage until the end of the set (24:21). The tie-break was somehow presented to Poland by a Belgian service error.
Lifted by this good result Poland started the tie-break really well (4:1), but quickly lost their concentration which resulted in coach Nawrocki taking a time-out (4:5). Mistakes of the guys in white and red jerseys and Belgium‘s good game, especially in blocking, as well as Lecat’s serves let the guests widen their lead to 8:5. Lapszynski finished an attack and shot an ace to make it 8:7. However, the consistent game displayed by Belgium dominated the scene in the next phases and Jonas Reynders finished the match with an attack from the right wing (15:11).

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26/08/2012 15:00:00
Straight win over Germany sends Bulgaria to the top of the charts in Pool II

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