Finland qualifies for World Champs for first time in 32 years
2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championship - Men
Poprad, Slovakia, January 5, 2014. Finland completed a clean sweep of their matches at the World Champs qualifier – Pool M in Poprad with a 3:2 victory over hosts Slovakia (24-26, 25-19, 25-19, 14-25, and 15-10) to qualify for the Final Round of the 2014 World Champs in Poland. Slovakia ended their home campaign in a disappointing third place as Ukraine beat Greece earlier on Sunday afternoon 3:2 (18-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, and 15-8) to finish the competition in second place with five points.
Finland qualified for the Final Round of the World Championship for the first time in 32 years, their last appearance dating back to 1982 as the competition was held in Argentina.
The last game of the tournament starring Finland and Slovakia was some kind of a final; Slovakia needed to take three points from this game to make the Worlds while Finland was searching for another two to cement their leadership in the Pool. Some 3,000 fans were in attendance at the Poprad Arena and they cheered on the home side right from the start of the game. Slovakia started out very good and got a four-point lead before Finland clawed back; at the end of a very close final rush, Slovakia claimed the opening set 26-24 with an ace by their opposite Martin Nemec. Slovakia needed to win another two sets to make it to the World Championship but Finland stepped up the quality of their performance and comfortably cashed the second and the third with the same score (25-19). This was enough to book a ticket to the World Champs and the Finns started their party right upon completion of the third set.
“I am very proud of my players and staff” Finland head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo said. “I also want to thank our Federation because they have done a lot for us not only in the last days but also for many years. The best thing for me is to see the team play like they did tonight. We were always behind in this tournament but we came back and beat all of our opponents. This shows our good attitude and that we are mentally strong. I am a young coach and this is a great success. I am very happy.”
“I can’t describe my feelings, we played great and the team showed it has grown a lot since the European Championship last September” commented Finland wing-spiker Antti Siltala. “We have made it to the next level with this young coach. I am looking forward to playing at the World Championship in Poland where we can expect a great atmosphere.”
“I would like to congratulate Finland because they played a very good match” said Slovakia head coach Flavio Gulinelli. “We had problems with our service and high balls. Greece gave us a chance taking two sets from their game with Ukraine but we did not use it. In sport you never get a second chance when you have already missed on another two. We are disappointed but we have to work hard to prepare for the European Championship qualifiers in May.”
Though they did not stand a chance to qualify for the World Champs, Greece played with glowing hearts against Ukraine, claiming the first set (25-18) before Ukraine responded taking the second (25-22). The third set was very close and the final score (25-23 for Greece) was sealed by a great block killed by the shortest player on the court, Athanasios Protopsaltis (185 cm). Trailing 1:2 in sets, the chances for Ukraine to advance to the Final Round of the World Championship were already gone. Greece set the pace of the game also in the fourth set but Ukraine fought back and eventually won the game at the tie-break (25-23, and 15-8). Mitar Tzourits top scored for Greece with 30 points while Ian Iereshchenko paced Ukraine with 20.
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