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23/09/2016 23:07
Road to #EuroVolleyW – Bulgaria’s Lionesses first to book ticket to Final Round
2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Women

Luxembourg, September 23, 2016. 11 matches were on schedule on Friday for the second round of qualifications to the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women. Bulgaria were the first team to celebrate their qualification to the EuroVolley Finals that will be taking place next year in Azerbaijan and Georgia following their fifth straight victory in Pool E – though they had to play five sets before achieving this feat and edging Switzerland at the end of a really close match. As for the other groups, Italy (Pool A), Poland (Pool C) and Croatia (Pool D) all improved their win-loss record to 4-0 but they still haven’t secured their progression to the Finals. In Pool F, the Czech Republic made amends for their 2-3 loss to Belarus on home soil last week by winning the rematch at the tie-break – so both teams currently boast a 3-1 win-loss record. 

Pool A

Latvia vs. Ukraine 0-3 (12-25, 9-25, 12-25)

The opening match of the second round robin tournament in Pool A confirmed Ukraine’s role as the closest competitor and major challenger to hosts Italy in the quest for a ticket to the EuroVolley Final Round. Ukraine scored 12 consecutive points in the first set to claim a 13-1 lead and even though Latvia attempted a comeback, it was too late to make up for such huge gap – 25-12. Ukraine did not leave any chance to their opponents also in the early stages of the second set – cruising to a 14-3 lead. After that, Latvia could score more points but the set still ended in a massive 25-9 win for Ukraine. The third and eventually last set was just a prolongation of the same trend – with Ukraine controlling the game without any problems and Latvia trying to score some more points with their spikes – which often ended in the hands of the Ukrainian blockers.

Viktoriya Delros, player of Ukraine: “After a very long journey to arrive in Montecatini, it was important to immediately play with the right intensity and rhythm. Now we have to continue improving on all aspects of the game and we will be trying to do so with each match.”

Gariy Yegiazarov, head coach of Ukraine: “We are still trailing Italy in the standing, but I think that we are much stronger than the two other teams in the pool, so we have to win these matches to go for a decisive clash with the Azzurre to determine who finishes first in the group.”

Janis Leitis, head coach of Latvia: “If we do not have good reception, it becomes tough and very challenging for us. However, when we served better, we had the possibility to show some good actions. Now we only have to think about the next matches.”

Italy vs. Austria 3-0 (25-14, 26-24, 25-15)

The home team debuted in Montecatini and recorded their fourth straight victory in the pool, but Austria put up a fight, especially in the second set. The first set started with 18-year-old Italian rising star Paola Egonu looking on fire, with Austria trying to respond with some quick plays. Egonu and Alessia Oro joined forces for a few blocks but Austria remained within two points at 14-12. After two time-outs, the Azzurre broke away and never looked back to take the first set by a landslide 25-14. The second set was a lot closer with the score remaining tight through to 24-all, before an Austrian service error and a great block contributed to the final 26-24 for the home side. After the hosts claimed an early 9-0 lead in set 3, the fate of the match was written – and Italy comfortably secured their third 3-0 win in the pool.

Paola Egonu, player of Italy: “This was a beautiful match. We have to reduce the number of mistakes we make, and I think I could have done better tonight, especially in defence. The qualification is really close now, but we’ll be doing our best for the next matches.”

Alessia Orro, player of Italy: “We must remain concentrated tomorrow and then prepare for Sunday’s match as good as we can, because Ukraine were the most difficult and challenging team to beat in the previous tournament.”

Cristiano Lucchi, coach of Italy: “Winning is the only thing we are supposed to do here, in other words we have to show that we are stronger than all other teams competing in this tournament. We must keep on growing, believe in our strengths and take advantage of the home-ground factor.”

Svetlana Ilic, coach of Austria: “In this kind of matches it is important to try and win a set when you have the opportunity to do so. In the second set we played better than in the first, but Italy showed that they have a really good team. We had nothing to lose and we have to try to use our chances when the opponent provides us with an opportunity to come out on top. We have to improve the way we perform in this kind of situations but overall I’m quite satisfied. Congrats to the Italian team.”

Pool B

Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. France 1-3 (23-25, 25-18, 15-25, 22-25)
Even if there was no qualification spot at stake anymore, both the French side and the team from Bosnia and Herzegovina delivered a close fight in their fifth pool game. Just like last week, France came out on top, this time with a 3-1 win.
From the first action on, Bosnia and Herzegovina showed their hunger for revenge after the 0-3 loss in Bordeaux last week. Edina Begic and Arijana Okuka kept this ambition very much alive in the first set until 21-18. However, in the end French setter Oriane Amalric found the recipe to grab the first set away (25-23).

French eventual top scorer Héléna Cazaute (16 points) didn’t manage to rewrite the same plot in the second set. Once again, Bosnian coach Goran Nesic saw his ladies pulling away with a three-point bonus until 16-13. And again, les Bleues managed to close the gap. But this time Begic and Verica Simic showed their skills with a remarkable finish for 25-18.

This first partial win at the second qualifying stage of the European Championship didn’t inspire the Balkan girls for more. France regrouped quickly around second setter Laurianne Delabarre, creating a comfortable 13-8 lead. With two aces in a row, Juliette Fidon secured the 25-15 win in the third set.

The middle blockers took centre stage in the fourth set. Alija Paradžik and Ana Gajic bothered France until 6-1. Captain Isaline Sager-Weider restored the balance with similar actions. Maëva Orle’s block at 17-17 turned out to be the key point. With a couple of good serves, she led her team to 25-22 to seal a 3-1 victory.

Maëva Orle, player of France: “We started the game rather slowly, since we still had mixed feelings after Thursday’s bad loss against Belgium. In the second set we even panicked a little. It took some time, until the third set, before we found our normal level. Spain will be a tough challenge in our last game, but we want to go back to France with a good feeling.”

Edina Begic, player of Bosnia and Herzegovina: “We won our very first set ever in the second phase of the European Championship. This is history for Volleyball in our country. We have a young team, but we are learning fast. Yet, when qualifying last May, we played even better. Unfortunately, some of our better players got injured and we miss them here.”

Pool C

Finland vs. Hungary 2-3 (23-25, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22, 9-15)

The opening match of the second round robin tournament in Pool C started tight and after a point for point race, Hungary edged ahead by four at 21-17. Finland managed to come from behind, but thanks to Greta Szakmary’s efforts, who scored six times, Hungary won the first set 25-23. Coach Tapio Kangasniemi motivated his team well and the Suomi team claimed a large, five-point advantage (11-6) in the second set, forcing Hungary mentor Jan De Brandt to take a time-out to talk to his girls. Finland did not lose their lead and comfortably finished the second set 25-18. The course of the game changed again in set 3 where after a few mistakes made by the Finnish team, their opponents led 8-3 before the players from the North rose like a phoenix from its ashes and tied at 15-all. Laura Pihlajamäki served aggressively in the end helping her teammates put some extra pressure, but Hungary showed nerves of steel and eventually sealed a 25-23 win. Hungary wanted to continue the same way in the fourth set keeping a comfortable advantage for most of the period, but Finland in a final rush found their rhythm to net a 25-22 win. The tie-break, however, belonged to Szakmary’s team, who stayed focussed and with a massive support from the Hungarian fans in attendance the gold medallists from the 2015 European League cruised to a 15-9 win to seal their 3-1 victory.

Rita Liliom, team captain of Hungary: “We came here to win this game and I think it was not a very good start for us, because we lost one point and tomorrow against Estonia we need to do a better job.”

Jan De Brandt, head coach of Hungary: “This game was full of ups and downs. In the third set we were in heaven, but after that we went to hell again. The good thing is that we always came back. This victory was important and now we are almost sure that we will finish second in this pool.”

Tapio Kangasniemi, head coach of Finland: “I am satisfied, because we were fighting for every ball and in every situation and that’s the most important thing. It’s always a huge disappointment when you end up losing. We were very close to doubling our lead when leading towards the end of the third set, but this is Volleyball. Our serve was good today, but of course we need to improve our game before tomorrow’s match.”

Piia Korhonen, opposite player of Finland: “I think we played a good match, but our opponent was just better in the end of the sets and we made too many mistakes.”

Poland vs. Estonia 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-17)

Making their debut in Bielsko-Biala, the home team took the lead from the early stages of the opening set. Great support from the Polish fans carried the hosts to an easy 25-19 win. The Poles looked highly motivated to claim a three-point victory and make a huge step towards qualifying to the Final Round of the EuroVolley 2017. In the second set, Malwina Smarzek did not stop threatening the helpless Estonians with her massive serve, moving the score to 8-4. The hosts did not stop widening the advantage and after an Estonian spike finished out of bounds, they sealed their second set win at 25-17. Smarzek led the Polish attack and block with the help of her setter, Joanna Wołosz. Keertu Laak and Julija Mõnnakmae tried their best on the opposite side of the net, but it was not enough to stop a rock-solid Poland. The third set followed a similar pattern. Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki’s players started leading the way from the beginning and even individual blocks of the tallest player on the Estonian side of the court, Liis Kullerkann could not stop the enthusiastic Poles. An ace from Martyna Grajber ended the match at 25-17 and the players in red and white shirts could finally erupt in joy.  

Joanna Wołosz, team captain of Poland: “We controlled the game tonight. We did well in each aspect of the game and the difference between us and Estonia was visible. Now we need to work to keep this same attitude and approach.”

Jacek Nawrocki, head coach of Poland: “Keeping the concentration was the key today. Maybe our serve was not the best in the first set, our block was too weak, but my girls were able to show their character.”

Liis Kullerkann, opposite spiker of Estonia: “Last weekend we also lost 3-0, but today we had a much better feeling on court and we didn’t give up at any point, so we are proud of the way we played.”

Marko Mett, head coach of Estonia: “We played as good as we can. I can’t say I’m satisfied with the result, but this is our level and we still can hold our heads high after this game. Our reception was on a similar level to Poland’s, but they played much better in defence.”

Pool D

Portugal vs. Israel 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 25-12)

Portugal and Israel opened the programme of the second competition day in Rovinj – and if Portugal were making their debut in the Croatian coastal city, Israel wanted to fight their way back after losing 1-3 to Slovakia on Thursday.

Portugal claimed an early three, four-point lead with setter Vanessa Rodrigues making up for some bad passing with her technical qualities. Portugal eventually won the opening set by 25-19 powered by Marta Hurst and Aline Rodrigues who in the end top scored with 20 and 16 points. As it often happens with women’s Volleyball, the course of the match suddenly changed in the second set where Portugal trailed most of the time by one or two points. The Portuguese players tried to put some extra pressure on their opponents but this resulted in a number of unforced errors with Israel finally taking the set by 25-23. Portugal found back their best game in set 3 – they set the pace right from the start and their players successfully spiked most of the balls nicely set by Vanessa Rodrigues. However, Israel had a positive 7-2 run and closed in at 15-11 but still they could not make up for their early gap, with Portugal ultimately cruising to a 25-19 win. Israel did not stand any chance in the fourth set and Portugal eventually took three important points from a match where Ella Carolina Saada and Natallia Kruk top scored for Israel with 10 and nine points, respectively.

Antonio Guerra, head coach of Portugal: “We are very happy with this victory. We have a very young team and for us it is very important to play this kind of competitive matches. We played against a good team, an opponent who fought for every point. It is important that we finish third in this pool for the future of this team.”

Chen Himelfarb, assistant coach of Israel: “Portugal played a very good match, whereas we are not in our best shape. We tried our best but it was not enough. Halfway through the match we decided to use some of our younger players but the problem is that we always trail early on in every set and it becomes difficult to come back and close the gap.”

Croatia vs. Slovakia 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 26-24)

Croatia had travelled to Rovinj after scoring three straight wins last week in Portugal and the hosts added another one to their tally, taking three points from their matchup with Slovakia – as they had done last week in Povoa de Varzim.

After a close start with Croatia leading 8-7, eventual top scorer Samanta Fabris (25 points) helped the home side extend their lead to 11-7 but some mistakes made by the Croatian players resulted in Slovakia closing in at 11-10. With Mia Jerkov standing behind the service line, however, Croatia edged ahead again but their advantage was down to one point at the second technical time-out. After the break, Croatia returned to display their best performance and their dominance was no longer to be questioned.

Croatia continued to play with the same intensity and quality even though from time to time they had some ups and downs. Dominika Drobnakova tried to help Slovakia keep the pace of their opponent but she received little help from her teammates. Supported by their many fans in attendance and with their captain Maja Poljak contributing a few blocks to their tally, Croatia controlled the set through to the end (25-20).

Slovakia responded by taking a 4-2 lead in the third set but soon Croatia fought back, edging ahead by one or two points. Slovakia scored twice in a row after the second technical time-out but their hope of a comeback was a short-lived one. Mira Topic added another two points to the Croatian haul and with the help of Fabris and Poljak Croatia stayed ahead at 22-20. After a pretty dramatic final rush which included a Croatian time-out, young middle blocker Ema Strunjak stamped a block to finish it all off 26-24 and 3-0 for Croatia.
Jaroslava Pencova, team captain of Slovakia: “After the first match in Portugal we knew that Croatia have a very good team. Our goal is to keep second place in the pool and to play as good as we can in the last game. This is really important for our team. We are satisfied with today’s performance as we played our best game of the last few weeks. In the third round our opponent will come from Pool F, and at the moment it looks like this is going to be Belarus.”

Miroslav Aksentijević, head coach of Croatia: “I am happy because we displayed a performance that was good enough to win this game. Slovakia played much better than they did last week in Portugal. On the other hand, I am also happy because we have four 3-0 wins so far, 12 points and did not lose a single set. This shows our quality, even though we had some ups and downs, but this is normal at this early stage of the season.”

Pool E

Romania vs. Montenegro 3-0 (25-17, 25-19, 25-15)

There was no doubt about the eventual winner of the match starring hosts Romania and Montenegro as the hosts booked an easy 3-0 win in front of a partisan home crowd in Piatra Neamt. Top scorer for Romania was Cristina Cazacu, who registered 11 points, followed by Adina Salaoru with 10, whilst Montenegro Nikoleta Perovic with 16 tried to compete with the power and strength of the Romanian team.
The Romanian fans saw high-quality Volleyball in the first set of a very important match – where second place in the pool and a spot in the next round were at stake – in which Romania, showing more experience, had the upper hand, winning it by 25-17. As the second set started, a tough, interesting battle unfolded, where the Romanians fought with everything they had, leading at both technical time-outs (8-6 and 16-15). With middle blocker Nneka Onyejekwe on fire, the girls mentored by Davide Delmati set the pace to end the set at 25-19 and take a 2-0 lead in the match. Romania kept control over the match and the result as the third set began. With their superior game and performance, the Romanians confirmed their hopes for a ticket to the next round. Romania never looked back finishing it off 25-15, thus taking three important points for the final standings of Pool E. 

Switzerland vs. Bulgaria 2-3 (25-20, 17-25, 25-23, 15-25, 12-15)

Bulgaria’s women booked their ticket to the Final Round of the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship after they edged Switzerland in five sets on Friday in Piatra Neamt to cash their fifth straight victory in Pool E.

Bulgaria claimed the first rally of the match but the ambitious Swiss girls walked away 8-5 and 16-11 in the opening set to eventually take it by 25-20.  

In the second set Bulgaria dictated the pace of the game from the beginning to the end with Gergana Dimitrova’s amazing spikes being their main weapon on the way to a 25-17 win.  

Laura Kuenzler anchored her side in the third set and the Swiss were able to edge ahead 21-19 before taking it home 25-23.

Bulgaria stepped up their efforts in set 4 with Elitsa Vasileva and Emiliya Nikolova that chiefly contributed to a massive 25-15 score. The ‘Lionesses’ stretched that tempo also to set 5 where they started out strong (5-3) and played with great energy to wrap it up at 15-12 and complete their comeback. 

Pool F

Belarus vs. Czech Republic 2-3 (24-26, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21, 7-15)

The early stages of the first clash on schedule for the EuroVolley qualifier in Maribor between Belarus and the Czech Republic soon indicated that the spectators were going to witness another Volleyball marathon, just like a week ago in Brno. But the Czechs made it to a 2-0 lead after an intense end of the first set (26-24) and after the Belarussians couldn’t cancel a third set point in the second set. Alexander Waibl’s players were apparently heading to a straight 3-0 win, when Belarus stormed back into the match. Aksana Kavalchuk and Tatsiana Markevich were showing their strength at the net and strong blocking and good defence brought the third set to Belarus. The Czechs couldn’t find their way back into the game also in the fourth set and the Belarussians forced the fifth set through good serving by Nadzeya Malasai and Volha Palcheuskaya and powerful counter attacks. The Czechs, however, dominated the fifth set, after they had started playing better already in the fourth set, when Helena Kojdova got injured. They cruised to a convincing 15-7 win to celebrate a hard-fought 3-2 victory and improve their win-loss record to 3-1.

Alexander Waibl, head coach of the Czech Republic: “This match was very important for us, since we lost against Belarus in Brno last week. We knew we had to win this time. The first two sets were very close and then we stopped playing for a little while and I believe at the end the injury of Kojdova gave us some extra motivation and an extra push. We started to play at our level again and we deserved this win.”

Angelo Vercesi, assistant coach of Belarus: “Our problem today was losing the first and second sets by not playing well in defence. We played well tactically speaking, but if you want to win against such an opponent, you have to put pressure throughout the whole match. I congratulate the Czech team on their victory.”

Slovenia vs. Greece 3-2 (23-25, 25-20, 26-24, 23-25, 15-8)

The match coincided with the fourth duel this season between the national teams of Slovenia and Greece. The first set was really close and the teams exchanged the lead back and forth through to the end. The Slovenians were in a better position to claim a 1-0 lead by the score of 23-21, but the home side then suffered a drop of concentration and pushed the Greeks forward with three consecutive mistakes. Georgia Lamprousi closed the set with an ace for 25-23.

The second set was more one-sided with the Slovenians creating a gap already at the beginning with their strong serving and great blocking; the home side preserved the lead thru to 18-12. However, the story of the set changed when the Slovenians started making mistakes and the Greeks reduced their gap to close in at 20-19. And yet, Tina Grudina’s excellent serving contributed to a 1-1 tie.   

In the third set which was more or less another close race the Slovenian Volleyball fans witnessed another thriller after Iza Mlakar and Marina Cvetanovic helped Slovenia to a 26-24 win, after the hosts previously trailed 21-24. The Greeks stepped up their efforts in the fourth set, but the Slovenians fought back in the tie-break and eventually secured an important 3-2 win.  

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