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18/09/2016 23:27
Road to #EuroVolleyM – Six clean sweeps heading into second round
2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Men

Luxembourg, September 18, 2016. On Saturday the Netherlands and the Czech Republic completed their duties in Pool E and F with three wins each waiting for the second round robin to follow next week but another 20 elite teams were due to compete on Sunday, playing their respective last matches in the first of two hectic weekends where the second round of qualifications to the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Men is contested. Germany in Pool A, Portugal in Pool B plus Belgium and Slovakia in Pool C and D, respectively completed a clean sweep of their matches to make it three wins in a row and claim an edge ahead of the second round robin that will follow next week – with the eventual winners securing their participation in the 2017 men’s EuroVolley Finals in Poland.  

Pool A

Switzerland vs. Spain 0-3 (22-25, 21-25, 21-25)

Spain claimed on Sunday their first victory of the weekend – they beat Switzerland in three sets after previously losing to Germany and Montenegro.

The first set saw Spain impose their rhythm from the beginning and Switzerland trying to keep their pace. However, Spain had the upper hand at 25-22. The Spaniards played even better in the second set – they claimed an early lead and were able to hold on to it to close it 25-21. Switzerland fought back in set 3 and claimed the lead a few times, even by two, three points. They impressively edged ahead at 15-11 but Spain responded immediately, and cut their deficit before drawing level at 20-all. After that, Switzerland could not stop Spain anymore and this resulted in a 25-21 set win to seal a 3-0 victory for the Spaniards.

Marco Gygli, team captain of Switzerland: “We knew that we did not stand that many chances to win against such strong opponents like those we played here. We did nevertheless stand a chance in the third set, where we broke their rhythm but we still lack experience to be able to compete at this level. We did give everything we had in this match and as a result, I am satisfied with our performance.”

Miguel Angel Amo Fernandez, player of Spain: “We had some ups and downs and maybe we were a little tired at some point, so we started making some easy mistakes and this should not happen. In a tournament like this it does not really matter if you are the favourite or the weakest team of the pool – you always need to remain focussed all the time if you want to win. This is what we did and what really matters in the end.”

Germany vs. Montenegro 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-18)

Germany completed their duties in Podgorica with three wins in as many matches after thrashing hosts Montenegro 3-0 on Sunday. The first set was close only halfway through and after that Germany edged ahead and could hold on to their lead. Montenegro closed in a couple of times in the second set and maybe had a little chance to turn things around but Germany were just too solid and they brought the match to an end with a compelling 3-0 win. 

Georg Klein, player of Germany: “This was a very good match for us, we played good and did stick to the tactics and game plan we had agreed upon. We controlled the game almost from start to end, our attacks were good and our serves were strong and well placed, so all these factors combined together contributed to our victory.”
Slobodan Boskan, head coach of Montenegro: “I have to congratulate Germany because they deservedly won this match. They set a high tempo right from the start. We could keep their pace only for the first two sets where we had a little chance to pose a threat to them. As for the third set, we kind of collapsed mentally and eventually lost the match 3-0. Germany are a high-quality opponent, so this result does not come as a surprise.”

Pool B

Sweden vs. Portugal 2-3 (25-22, 18-25, 25-22, 23-25, 10-15)

On Sunday Portugal won their third match a row, when they overcame Sweden in an intense tie-break thriller. The Portuguese are now alone on top of Pool B and travel undefeated to the second qualification tournament coming up next week in Finland.  

After an evenly fought set, Sweden secured themselves two set points at 24-22. Still, the Swedes did not get to serve for the set win, as Portugal’s Alexandre Ferreira complained so strongly to the first referee and received first a yellow and then a red card, adding one more point to Sweden’s count and thereby sealing their set win (25-22).

Portugal geared up in the second set and quickly established a four-point lead. Coach Jose Francisco Dos Santos’s team built on that and converted the second of eight possible set points when Sweden’s Dardan Lushtaku made a service error (25-18).   

The third set was the exact opposite of the second. This time it was Sweden that sprinted away from Portugal (13-5). Sweden’s overall top scorer in the tournament Marcus Nilsson (42 points after two matches) had only scored three points in the first two sets of the match and got a break on the bench at 13-7. Marco Evan Ferreira brought some excitement back in the set with three aces in a row, and as a result Portugal trailed by one point at 17-18. Another ace by Alexandre Ferreira made it 22-all, but Sweden then won three points in a row (25-22).    

Portugal had to have their back against the wall before they found their A-game. The Portuguese trailed the entire set as Sweden on remarkable manner were able to keep the ball flying no matter what kind of attack Portugal tried. Five thunder services in a row from Marco Evan Ferreira were needed for Portugal to come from behind (20-23) to the eventual set win (25-23).

Tie-break time in Humlehøjhallen and Sweden trailed by three points 5-8 when the teams switched sides of the court. The Portuguese showed a great mental strength in the decisive set and closed the tie-break 15-10.

Jose Francisco Dos Santos, head coach of Portugal: “It was a close call. Definitely not an easy match. The guys are tired physically, but luckily the team is very strong mentally and that is what secured our victory today. All the guys kept believing that we would win in the end. Everything is possible now. I still think Finland are the favourites for first place in the pool, but our dream is very much alive.”

Johan Isacsson, head coach of Sweden: “I will start by praising the guys for playing a great match. We definitely had our chances and should have closed the match in the fourth set. Portugal had a really good serving game. We made a couple of mistakes, and when a match is as tight as this one, you lose. Again today I think we proved we are candidates for a spot in the Final Round. We are still in the race.”

Finland vs. Denmark 3-1 (25-17, 18-25, 25-11, 25-21)

Finland travel home for the second part of the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship qualifier lying in second place in Pool B, after winning a close fight against Denmark 3-1.

Finland got a fantastic start to the match with strong serving by Olli-Pekka Ojansivu (6-1). Even though Denmark fought back (9-8), the Danes could not find the answer to the Finnish float serves in the first set, and Tuomas Sammelvuo’s team could cruise to the set win 25-17.

The Danish reception was much better in the second set, and with the help of three aces in a row by Philip Metin Özari, Denmark had the lead (16-10) at the second technical time-out. The Danes never looked back from there and deservedly Özari could take the set home for Denmark 25-18.

Finland were on top of all aspects of the game in the third set. Ojansivu served hard, the Finnish blocks were rock solid, and their attacks varied due to intelligent setting by Eemi Tervaportti. 24 minutes after the first serve Finland had wrapped the set up 25-11.

Denmark seemed eager to force the match into tie-break as Aske Mørkeberg Sørensen with two straight aces claimed a 9-5 lead for the home side. However, the Danes seemed to lose their concentration just a bit and Finland punished that immediately, scoring six points in a row and going from trailing 9-13 to a 15-13 lead. Ojansivu was unstoppable and with a total of 32 points he was the man behind the Finnish victory (25-21).  

Top scorer Olli-Pekka Ojansivu said: “It is my job to score a lot of points. Fortunately, I have played together with our great setter for many years, and we have a good connection. But this was a team effort, and part of the team is also our fantastic fans that travel with us all over the world. That is a big thing for us.

“It is nice to play against Denmark and Sweden who both are much better teams now than some years ago. It is a really good thing for the Nordic countries. Now we focus on the last part of the tournament at home where our goal is to win all matches and qualify directly to the Final Round.”

Mikael Trolle, head coach of Denmark: “Of course the result is not what we hoped for. But I am pleased that we were able to change on several positions throughout the tournament and still able to push the opponents. I am proud of the guys, who I believe will have a fantastic future. We have seen that the level in this tournament is as high as we feared. I think we proved that we belong here. Now we will travel to Finland to win some matches.”

Pool C

Belgium vs. Republic of Moldova 3-0 (25-18, 25-14, 25-19)

Belgium destroyed Moldova in straight sets to finish the first leg of Pool C on a high - undefeated after three rounds of play - as their half-dozen brave fans who travelled all the way to the northern Greek city of Kozani rejoiced in the stands.

“We came here to get three wins and our first goal is achieved,” said Belgium coach Dominique Baeyens after the match.

The result left the Balkan side winless at the bottom of the table.

Sam Deroo contributed greatly with his stuffs, as Belgium out-blocked Moldova, and joined his teammate Hendrik Tuerlinckx and Moldova’s Dmitrii Bahov as top scorer of the game - all on 13 points each.

Moldova had obviously run out of steam after pushing both Ukraine and Greece to their limits in their first two games in the pool.

“We can play better, but today was a little bit difficult because Belgium are better than us,” said Bahov, Moldova’s team captain.

Belgium will now begin next weekend’s second leg, in Antwerp, from the pole position. “The second tournament should be an advantage for us, playing at home, but it will be a tough one against Ukraine and I also expect Greece to be better,” coach Baeyens concluded.

Ukraine vs. Greece 2-3 (19-25, 27-29, 26-24, 25-23, 11-15) 

Though not yet totally convincing, Greece nonetheless rose to the occasion and edged Ukraine 3-2 to remain on track for their goal of second place in Pool C and a ticket to Round 3 of the European qualifiers.

For Ukraine it was a carbon-copy of their previous day’s match against Belgium, when they came back from two sets down to force a tie-break, only to lose the game. It was Ukraine’s third five-setter in as many matches over the weekend.

“It was a very difficult pool with three out of the six matches going to five sets,” said Greece coach Sotirios Drikos after the game. “Our failure to react to Ukraine’s serving after the first two sets today was critical in turning the game around.”

“Playing 15 sets in three days is very difficult,” added Ukraine libero Pylyp Harmash. “I really don’t know why we lost both our tie-breaks yesterday and today.”

It was team captain Mitar Tzourits who took it upon himself this time to lead Greece with a 29/50 attacking performance for 58% and a spectacular top-scoring count of 38 points, even after fatigue crept in beyond the third set.

Ukraine got off to a great start in the first set, but after the second technical time-out the home side rallied for six straight points from four points behind at 13-17 to overtake their opponents at 19-17 and extend their lead to take the set 25-19.

It was much closer throughout the second set, but Greece had to cancel a couple of Ukrainian set points at 24-23 and 25-24 before getting a break on their own third attempt after Kostiantyn Zhylinskyi hit the ball wide for 29-27.

With Greece now on a roll, the third set seemed procedural, as the home side gained a 19-16 lead. But the visitors had other things in mind and closed in to tie the score at 20-20 and then go on to take the set on their second set point with a spike by Dmytro Shorkin that pierced the triple block of Greece for 26-24.

In a similar fashion, Ukraine came back from a three-point deficit at 16-13 in the fourth to go two up at 18-16 and reach set point at 24-21 before finishing it 25-23 to force a tie-break.

Greece didn’t falter in the fifth, though, taking a quick lead and sailing on for the final win that gives them an edge over their opponents ahead of next weekend’s second leg of the pool in Antwerp, Belgium.

Pool D

Israel vs. Latvia 1-3 (18-25, 25-20, 20-25, 19-25)

As they were vying for their second victory in Poprad, Latvia claimed an early 6-2 lead. Israel fought as much as they could and came within one point, but the Latvians served very well and dominated the second part of the opening set; especially their opposite Hermans Egleskalns scored many points in attack and as a result Latvia comfortably won the first set by 25-18. Good side-out, service and block helped Israel claim a 16-11 lead in the second set with their middle blocker Genadi Sokolov stopping the clock for the second technical time-out. Israel were able to hold on to their advantage and restored equality in the match after winning the second set 25-20. Latvia edged ahead 13-10 in set 3 but good serving from their second opposite Sagiv Boulkin helped Israel close in at 14-all. However, the second half of the set belonged to Latvia and their strong serve paved the way towards a 25-20 win. The same weapon was used by Latvian middle blocker Toms Svans to open a 13-10 advantage in the fourth set. The team coached by 1988 Olympic silver medallist Raimonds Vilde did not slow their pace down and deservedly won the fourth set as well – thus cashing their second victory in the tournament.

Sagiv Boulkin collected 17 points for Israel, as Hermans Egleskalns topped all scorers with 23 for Latvia.

Grzegorz Rys, head coach of Israel: “The first two sets were close. We need more matches at this level to get more experience and to play a little bit better, because there were some small details in which our opponents were better than us. Our service was not so strong, as our plan was to use it more tactically. It was a good solution, but finally we didn’t win so many points with it. Our opponents took more risks with their serve and it was an important factor for the final result of the match. Our block was very good today, but we couldn’t finish the most important points. We will see what happens with the next tournament, we will try to correct a few things and to play a little bit better.”
Deniss Petrovs, team captain of Latvia: “We played better than yesterday and we took three important points. Nothing is decided yet and we are still in contention for first place. The guys from the bench helped us a lot and it was the main reason why we ultimately won today. We are currently in second place and before the second tournament in Croatia everything is still wide-open.”
Raimonds Vilde, head coach of Latvia: “Our goal was to win two games here in Poprad and so we did. The match was difficult for us and also for Israel, because both teams were tired. We made too many mistakes with our serve even though we recorded nine aces in the end. Our reception was steady and this is also one of the reasons of our victory. Now we fly to Zagreb and from there we will move to Rovinj to play the second tournament in the pool.”

Croatia vs. Slovakia 1-3 (21-25, 25-18, 24-26, 22-25)

The still winless Croatia caught a promising start as they claimed a 5-2 lead in the first set. The Slovakian players, on the other hand, needed some time to find their rhythm but they did so in the second half of the opening set. The score remained close but after a block by their captain Emanuel Kohut, Slovakia edged ahead at 22-20 and eventually won the first set 25-21. Croatia were looking for their first victory of the weekend and played with more intensity in the second set. Their star player Igor Omrcen delivered some classy plays and his team comfortably won the second set 25-18. Slovakia stormed to a 22-19 lead in set 3 but Croatia turned the score around at 23-22 in their favour. Slovakian opposite Milan Bencz had the last word as he ended the set in style at 26-24 for the hosts. Croatia put up a fight also in the fourth set but Slovakia came back from 12-16 to 16-all and eventually wrapped it up 25-22 to celebrate their third straight win in as many matches they contested this weekend in Poprad.

Slovakia will travel next week to Rovinj with maximum nine points from the first round robin, thus having an edge in the race for a spot in the Final Round of the EuroVolley.
Miroslav Palgut, head coach of Slovakia: “We are very happy, because we won all three matches. This game was very tough as we expected it to be, because Croatia have a good team and after two losses they had nothing to lose today. Our serve and reception were not so good, but I am happy that we showed a good team spirit, and that my players fought all the time and finally we won. We are in a good position, but nothing is decided yet and we need to remain focussed for the second tournament next week.”
Igor Simuncic, head coach of Croatia: “We had a much better rhythm today than in the previous matches. Our problem is that we started our preparation later than we had originally planned. Despite the final result, this match provides a little bit of optimism for us. We are improving our performance with each match and I expect that we will be playing even better next week at home. I expect a lot of points from the next tournament. The fight for first place is almost over for us, but we will be trying to finish second in the pool.”

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