Italy and Belgium move to semis as Russia ends Poland's dreams of home glory
2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship - Men
Gdynia, Poland, August 30, 2012. With Italy and Belgium having cruised to 3-0 wins over Serbia and Finland respectively, the home guys of Poland needed to score a 3-0 or 3-1 in their last preliminary match against Russia, but they eventually went down 1:2 in what was a very emotional and intense game and by that moment the final standings of Pool I were determined. Italy and Belgium qualify for the semis to play there Turkey and Spain respectively, while Poland is relegated to the classification matches 5-8 that are also scheduled for this coming weekend in Gdynia. There was much disappointment among the local fans but Russia showed, even though not constantly, good play to terminate the dreams of the guys in white and red jerseys to go for European glory.
Italy downed Serbia in straight sets (25-22, 25-13, and 25-15) in a game that was absolutely one-sided, especially since the group captained by Uros Kovacevic lacked fighting spirit and the desire to perform well. With this result – and regardless of the outcome of the last match that will be opposing Poland to Russia – Italy finishes first in Pool I and will play Turkey, the second ranked of group II, in the semis coming up on Saturday in Gdynia.
The match started at a relatively low pace and it looked like Serbia was struggling to find the right motivation for the last game of a European campaign that had turned into a real debacle for the 2011 FIVB Youth World champions. Italy quickly imposed their tempo (8:4, 14:9) but also found it difficult to dismantle their best play as the quality and intensity of the game were less than impressive. Serbia lacked accuracy and consistency, making it easy for Italy to score (22:16) and the opening set was gone without any real emotions (25-22).
A good serving turn by Luca Borgogno opened set 2 with a comfortable 6:2 run for Italy; the – at least on paper – Serbian star Uros Kovacevic was once again very far away from his usual standards and even did not show much commitment to the cause of his team as he did often spike well off the court. After enjoying an 8:3 lead by the first mandatory stop, Italy stretched that margin (15:5) via a series of blocks and the score got a little embarrassing as Serbia trailed 20:9 going into the final rush. It was just horrible to see how de-motivated the Serbians were playing and Sandro Caci – Italy’s top scorer in the tournament together with Luigi Randazzo – eventually sealed the final 25-13 from the right wing.
The most difficult task for Italy was coming up in set 3: after dominating the scene with so much ease, the young “Azzurri” had to show their capacity of staying cool and keeping concentrated up to the end. They did so quite well (8:4), helped also by the errors of their opponents, and even though Serbia had surged back only for a moment, Italy still went for the second technical time-out with a very promising 16:11 lead. Coach Bonitta started his personal countdown at 23:15 for his guys, an ace by Fabio Ricci piled up 9 match balls and the story was over with a spike killed by captain Simmaco Tartaglione.
With everything still wide open as far as the final standings of Pool I are concerned, Belgium did their job well on Thursday afternoon as they downed Finland in straight sets (25-17, 25-22, and 25-23) to remain in contention for a spot in the semis coming up this weekend.
After a close start (4:4), Belgium imposed their pace (8:4) and anchored by their captain Tomas Rousseaux, Francois Lecat and Arno Vandevelde they quickly moved up 15:9. Finland was really not able to stand the pressure imposed by their opponents and Martijn Colson finished the opening set with a block (25-17).
Belgium quickly dictated the tempo of the game also in set 2 (8:6, 12:8) but a short blackout let Finland come back to -1 (12:11). However, Belgium found back their best play only a while later (18:13) and even though Finland attempted a late comeback powered by Elviss Krastins, it was Rousseaux that finished the set with a crosscourt (25-22).
Things did not change in set 3 where Belgium set the pace of the game (8:6, 16:12) and in spite of Finland surging back once more late in the set, the guys mentored by Steven Vanmedegael finished their job in straight sets.
In a very emotional and tense match Russia beat Poland 3:2 (25-23, 26-28, 25-17, 16-25, and 15-13) to end the hosts’ dreams of qualifying for the semis of this European Championship.
Poland and Russia extended their long-lasting rivalry – in and off the Volleyball court – on Thursday night as the home heroes needed to score a win to make it to the semifinals of the European Championship. With the largest crowd in attendance since the start of the event in Gdynia, the local guys started out bravely (5:2) as they could rely on the good omen of two friendly matches played against Russia before the EuroVolley and that they had claimed with the scores of 3-2 and 3-0. Russia had gone through many ups and downs in the tournament and this time the group mentored by Sergey Shlyapnikov had been miles far away from the stellar standards showed two years ago by the previous, winning generation. However, it was not going to be too easy for Poland as Russia responded well and basically drew the count by the second technical time-out. With their main attacking force, 208 cm tall Maciej Muzaj, on fire, the local favorites eventually re-opened the gap halfway through the set (20:16) but some horrible errors in reception helped Russia fight back and flip the charts at 22:21. Two time-outs asked by Poland’s mentor Jacek Nawrocki helped a bit, Russia missed out on two set balls but Muzaj served long to help his opponents cash the final 25-23.
One more set conceded to Russia and Poland would have been out of the semis, so some tension was to be perceived in the air; even though Russia was already out of contention for a spot among the top four, still they wanted to play for their honor and a furious battle unfolded in the second set; at 16 all Shlyapnikov decided to exploit once more the great serve of Yaroslav Podlesnykh and he immediately paid back the trust of his coach with an ace. Russia’s defense then helped Poland come back from 19:17 down to 19 all, the emotions continued and a fault from the back row whistled to Muzaj contributed a set point for Russia whereby Poland was on the edge of missing the semis. The Belgian delegation on the stands was shaking as the 2:0 for Russia would have meant their qualification for the games assigning ranks 1 to 4, but Russia missed two more set balls and Poland survived this drama by silvering their first set point for the final 28-26.
A similar story followed in the third set where the teams fought for every single rally and Russia finally claimed a margin of two by the second mandatory stop; quite suddenly Poland lacked consistency and quality, so with Russia going to the front 19:14, the risk of being eliminated from the semis was to be contemplated once more. But was Russia going to stay focused and this time finish the job? Belgian coach Steven Vanmedegael was going around in the stands like a lion in a cage, hoping Russia would help his side make it to the deciding stage of the Champs; some more Polish errors moved the score to 24:16 for the guests, and the quest for home glory was ended as Orczyk served into the net for Russia’s 2:1 that sent Belgium to the semi against Pool I leader, Spain.
The last two sets were not going to have any influence on the final standings of the group; Poland – even without Muzaj – imposed their pace in set 4 going for a comfortable 25-16 but then lost the deciding tie-break 13-15 at the end of a game that had turned into a rollercoaster.
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