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24/09/2016 23:05
Road to #EuroVolleyW – Belgium, Poland and Croatia through to Final Round
2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Women

Luxembourg, September 24, 2016. After Bulgaria secured their participation in the Final Round of the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women on Friday already, another three teams followed in their footsteps on Saturday. Croatia and Poland claimed their fifth straight victories in Pool D and C, respectively – and Croatia did so in style, as they have not dropped a set in five matches they have contested so far in these European qualifiers. Belgium’s Yellow Tigers are also through to the Final Round of the European Championship – and for this they have to thank France who stamped a 3-1 victory over Spain – which means Belgium will anyway finish first in Pool B no matter if they win or lose their last match in the group on Sunday. Italy and Ukraine are set to fight for first place in Pool A whereas Belarus and the Czech Republic are in contention for that same feat in Pool F – with both tournaments coming to an end on Sunday in Montecatini and Maribor, respectively. 

Pool A

Ukraine vs. Austria 3-0 (25-15, 25-12, 25-10)

Ukraine claimed a 3-0 victory over Austria to remain in contention for first place in the pool. The Ukrainians took an early lead in the opening set but Austria were able to keep their deficit down to a minimum. Head coach Gariy Yegiazarov did kind of shake his girls during the time-outs and Ukraine changed rhythm to comfortably win the first set by 25-15. The second set followed the same pattern, with Ukraine this time looking even more dominant (25-12). The third set was a close race only in the early stages before Austria suffered from the fatigue resulting from Friday’s match with Italy and everything went just easy for Ukraine (25-10) who deservedly won the match 3-0.

Srna Markovic, team captain of Austria: “We have a really young team and yesterday we put up a good fight against Italy, but today it was not a good match from our side. I think we are still not on a level where we can play so many tough matches within a short period of time.”

Svetlana Ilic, head coach of Austria: “It was not one of our best days, but I think we deserved what we got today, this kind of matches can only be a good lesson for my girls. To play against great teams like Ukraine and Italy is a demonstration of our improvement, but we can’t lose our concentration for too long when we are standing on the same court as these top teams”.

Nadiia Kodola, team captain of Ukraine: “We had to win today because we are definitely stronger than Austria and Latvia. We can play against Italy at the same level tomorrow but we have less international experience.”

Gariy Yegiazarov, head coach of Ukraine: “These two matches went really well. We had to win and now we are ready to play against Italy. The decisive match is tomorrow. We hope to deliver a good show to entertain the fans.”

Latvia vs. Italy 0-3 (8-25, 13-25, 15-25)

Playing before an ecstatic home crowd of 3,250 fans, Italy comfortably claimed their fifth straight victory in Pool A and on Sunday will be playing Ukraine in a match that will determine which one of the two teams will settle for first place in the group. The Azzurre claimed a 7-0 run to start the match with and the spikes killed by Paola Egonu and Valentina Tirozzi paved the way towards a massive 25-8 win. The score remained tight in the second set up to 7-all before Italy broke away with a series of attacks by Anastasia Guerra and Cristina Chirichella, which secured them a 25-13 victory. The final set was not much different: though Latvia claimed an early lead, Italy drew level at 8-all and from there they easily controlled the game through to the end (25-15).  

Valentina Tirozzi, team captain of Italy: “Tomorrow will be a tough match, as Ukraine perform at a much higher level than the other teams in Pool A. The crowd was amazing tonight; it was really exciting to play with this kind of atmosphere.”

Cristiano Lucchi, head coach of Italy: “We had the right approach. Tomorrow will be decisive, Ukraine have shown a good rhythm and they have a great setter, so we have to prepare for the match as carefully as possible. We have grown a bit with each match, and today has been a further boost of self-confidence.”

Janis Leitis, head coach of Latvia: “I am satisfied. We played a good match against one of the best teams in Europe. I think that tonight we delivered a good performance and so I am hopeful for tomorrow. Tonight was not the kind of match we could win.”

Pool B

Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 (25-13, 25-8, 25-5)

The second home match for the Yellow Tigers at Lotto Arena in Antwerp was preceded by a ceremony celebrating two players of the current team – Jasmien Biebauw and Britt Herbots – who turned 26 and 17 respectively on Saturday as well as former team captain Frauke Dirickx, who announced only a few weeks ago her retirement from competitive sport. Maybe this party atmosphere prevented the home team from focussing right from the beginning of the match and a number of Belgian mistakes helped Bosnia and Herzegovina keep the score tight up to 10-9. However, after that the experience and quality displayed by the Yellow Tigers were too much to stand for the young Bosnian team and captain Charlotte Leys was instrumental to the achievement of a compelling 25-13 win. Setter Ilka Van de Vyver orchestrated the Belgian game in the best way and middle blocker Freya Aelbrecht did an excellent job at the net. After the opening set, everything went just easy for Belgium – Leys and Herbots served strong, and many great defence actions provided something more to enjoy for the 3,500 fans in attendance. Laura Heyrman and Aelbrecht did a good job at blocking as Lise Van Hecke scored time and again to pave the way towards a 3-0 victory.

Gert Vande Broek, head coach of Belgium: “This was a good preparation for the decisive match with Spain that we will play on Sunday.”

Spain vs. France 1-3 (20-25, 33-31, 23-25, 17-25)

Spain still had a chance to vie for first place in the pool but they first needed to claim their matchup with France before posing a threat to Belgium’s Yellow Tigers on Sunday. France had nothing to lose and they eventually finished their European campaign on a high note – with their victory securing also Belgium’s first place in the pool and progression to the EuroVolley Finals.

France caused a surprise in the early stages of the match already. Héléna Cazaute killed spike after spike and the blocks by team captain Isaline Sager-Weider contributed to 10-3, 13-4 and 19-9 leads – it looked like this was enough for France to net the first set but Anna Mirtha Correa Esteban and Jessica Rivero attempted a late comeback for Spain that closed in within three points at 19-16. And yet, Juliette Fidon, Alexandra Dascalu and the French block finished it all off at 25-20 for Les Bleues.

Spain played a lot better in the second cruising to an early 7-2 lead; however, France came back strong and levelled the count at 10-all. Spain regained control of the game at the second technical time-out (16-12) but France responded with the serves by setter Oriane Amalric and attacks by Cazaute to edge ahead again at 20-17. The final section of the set was a real thriller – with France missing out on four set balls before Rivero cashed the fifth Spanish opportunity for 1:1. Rivero was just outstanding as she scored as many as 13 points in the second set.

However, Spain made too many mistakes in the third set and soon trailed 16-7. Correa and Rivero tried to bring their side back on track and they almost succeeded in doing so (14-17, 21-22) but France remained focussed to bring the set to a happy end – something which Milagros Collar could not prevent although she scored nine points in this set.

France controlled the match in the fourth set (11-5, 16-9) and their eventual 3-1 victory provided much joy to the Belgian camp – as the Yellow Tigers are through to the Final Round of the EuroVolley no matter what happens with their last match on Sunday when they play Spain.

Pool C

Hungary vs. Estonia 3-2 (25-16, 20-25, 23-25, 25-14, 15-13)

After yesterday’s 3-2 victory over Finland, Hungary took to the court with a lot of energy and from the beginning they put much pressure on their opponents, which resulted in a compelling 25-16 win. Estonia, led by Kertu Laak, did not give up and fought their way back into the match. The players coached by Marko Mett claimed an early five-point lead and were able to hold on to it through to the end (25-20). Estonia showed quality and consistency also in the third set, something which Hungary could not match, and the Baltic ladies eventually made it 2-1 in their favour. Greta Szakmary took much of the responsibility on the fourth set, scoring time and again to contribute to an 11-6 lead – which paved the way towards a 25-14 set win for Hungary. The crowd in attendance expected a close tie-break and they were not disappointed. Hungary tried to use their physical prowess – but Estonia were not caught by surprise. It was a very close battle – which eventually came to an end as Dora Horvath scored for 15-13 to seal a 3-2 come-from-behind victory for Hungary.

Dora Horvath, outside spiker of Hungary: “We won, but we are not satisfied with the result. We played bad and too tight. We are now in the second round and we need to improve our game if we want to achieve our goal, which is to qualify to the EuroVolley Finals for the second straight edition.”

Jan De Brandt, head coach of Hungary: “It was the same story as yesterday. We played really good in the fourth set, but before the tie-break we didn’t know what to expect. It’s a pity that we could not manage to win in an easier way. We are happy that we won in the end, because now we are closer to qualifying to the next round.”

Julija Mõnnakmae, team captain of Estonia: “I think it was a very tough match, because it was a very close one, but we played very good and did so performing as a team. In the first set we had problems in defence, but when we started to play better in this aspect, our game obviously developed a lot better.”

Marko Mett, head coach of Estonia: “I don’t know what happened at the end of the tie-break, but the game is now over. Hungary have a very experienced line-up, but we showed that we can play at the same level too. Our serve worked well today. I think we deserved the victory today, but unfortunately we lost.”

Finland vs. Poland 1-3 (23-25, 20-25, 25-20, 19-25)

The hosts knew very well what was at stake – a direct qualification to the Final Round of the European Championship. The home team started aggressively, but Finland showed good blocking and defence, and as a result they kept the score tight (12-10). As Poland lost focus, the final stages of the opening set turned into an unexpected close race. Malwina Smarzek, however, helped her team claim a 25-23 win to the delight of the fans in attendance. The second set started with a ruthless show of strength by the hosts as they easily claimed a 16-8 lead, but again they lost focus and Finland closed in from 20-10 to 22-20. Still, in a close final rush Poland showed their character and scored three points in a row to double their lead in the match. Martyna Grajber opened the next set with a series of tricky serves, but the Finns responded well and edged ahead at 18-12. Poland made too many mistakes and even though they stormed back to make it 20-all, they eventually could not take the set. The players in red and white shirts kind of re-focussed on their goal and they looked back on track in the fourth set. Joanna Wolosz and Agnieszka Kakolewska found the perfect understanding and coordination to move the score to 19-11. Emilia Mucha eventually spiked from the left wing to seal a 3-1 victory and with it Poland could celebrate their qualification to the 2017 EuroVolley Finals.

Agata Sawicka, libero of Poland: “The final section of the match was pretty good. It’s a pity that earlier in the game we could not manage to play just as good. We realise how important this qualification is, so we are even happier.”

Jacek Nawrocki, head coach of Poland: “My players were a bit nervous because they were aware of the importance of this match. We are happy with the result and with our qualification to the Finals and this is the most important thing right now. It’s obvious that we are still developing this team, my players need to play more in their clubs and then we can think about the EuroVolley next year.”

Noora Kosonen, outside spiker of Finland: “We put up a good fight in this match and of course we are glad that we won this one set against Poland, but we had chances to achieve even more. We fought well, but we could have played better.”

Tapio Kangasniemi, head coach of Finland: “I am not satisfied because we lost the match, but I think that at this moment this is our maximum or we are close to it, so I can’t say too many negative things about our game. We played quite good – Finland went down, Poland went up, that’s how women’s Volleyball usually looks like.”

Pool D

Croatia vs. Portugal 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-20)

The Croatian national team secured their participation in the Final Round of the 2017 EuroVolley after recording their fifth straight victory in Pool D. They did so without dropping a single set in five matches – and on Sunday will take on Israel to complete their duties on home soil in Rovinj.

However, it was not an easy ride. Portugal put up a fight since the beginning of the match and Croatia could only lead by a couple of points. However, as the match progressed Samanta Fabris scored time and again as Portugal did not find a way to stop her. Carla Sousa tried to put her team back in contention but even though the young Portuguese players fought with everything they had, they could not cause a sensation – and Croatia won the opening set 25-21.

After relaxing a bit early on in the second set, Croatia came back from 2-5 to lead 8-6 at the first technical time-out. Bernarda Brcic contributed to widening their advantage to 13-7 and at this stage coach Miroslav Aksentijevic decided to provide a couple of young players, Beta Dumancic and Dinka Kulic, with an opportunity to play a European-level match. This did not have a major impact on the development of the game with Croatia comfortably cruising to a 25-15 win.

In set 3 Aksentijevic felt so confident that he only used reserve players to compose his starting six. Lucija Mlinar scored seven points after a slow start and making some mistakes – and eventually the Croatian youngsters secured a 3-0 win and with it also the qualification to the EuroVolley Finals.

Ema Strunjak, middle blocker of Croatia: “We played really good from the beginning of this qualification round and we did not lose a single set last week in Portugal either. The atmosphere tonight was great. The more experienced players are helping the younger ones who are making their debut at this level. Tomorrow we will be trying to play as good as we can and to take another three points.”

Juliana Isabel Antunes, player of Portugal: “Today we played for our future, because we want to develop into a competitive and well-organised team. Tomorrow we play Slovakia and we will be doing our best to win that game. We will put up a fight and hopefully this will be enough to make it to the next qualification round.” 

Pool E

Romania vs. Bulgaria 0-3 (18-25, 8-25, 22-25)

On Saturday Bulgaria beat Romania 3-0 to complete a clean sweep of their six matches in Pool E. Romania finished in second place and will have another opportunity to make it to the EuroVolley Finals via the third and last stage of the qualification process which is slated for the beginning of October. Bulgaria had already secured their progression to the Final Round on Friday after cruising to their fifth straight win in the pool.

The teams played point by point in the beginning of the first set with Bulgaria leading the way by the thinnest margin at the first technical time-out (8-7). Bulgaria started to be more aggressive after the break with amazing spikes by Elitsa Vasileva and took a comfortable lead at the second time-out (16-11). Romania tried to recover with the help of middle blocker Nneka Onyejekwe but Emiliya Nikolova’s killing attacks put an end to the set at 25-18.

Bulgaria looked in control in the second set as well, something that resulted in an 8-2 lead at the first technical time-out. Romania were not able to find their rhythm in defence and Bulgaria were superior in all tactical aspects – something which was more than obvious at the second technical time-out (16-2). Again Vasileva and Nikolova demolished Romania’s defence and the set was quickly over at 25-8.

Another close race followed in the third set (7-7) when Romania hit back with clever attacks by Roxana Bacsis – she managed to take her teammates in the leading position at the first technical time-out (8-6). However, Bulgaria recovered with excellent blocking actions and took a three-point lead at 16-13. Bacsis and Adina Salaoru kept on pushing hard for Romania but Bulgaria did not look back and finished the match at 25-22.  

Montenegro vs. Switzerland 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-16, 25-20)

Montenegro proved too strong for Switzerland to eventually settle for third place in Pool E. The team of head coach Dragan Nesic overpowered the promising Swiss talents 3-1 to complete the programme of the second round robin tournament held in Piatra Neamt, Romania. Montenegro outside spiker and team captain Tatjana Bokan scored 26 points as Laura Kuenzler paced Switzerland with 18 markers.

Montenegro caught an impressive start to the match leading at both technical time-outs (8-6 and 16-14) of the opening set with well-placed attacks by Tatjana Bokan that set the pace to win the set by 25-21.

Montenegro played aggressive also in the second set taking the lead at the first technical time-out (8-5) but their advantage was erased and they trailed by one point later on (15-16). Switzerland looked more efficient in reception and managed to break away to lead 21-16. Laura Kuenzler and Martina Halter were the outstanding players for the Swiss team and they chiefly contributed to Switzerland’s eventual 25-23 set win.

In set 3 Montenegro took command at the net with excellent blocks by Nikoleta Perovic and killing attacks by Bokan which caused real problems to the Swiss defence. Montenegro comfortably finished the set at 25-16.

In the fourth set Montenegro cruised to compelling 8-2 and 16-11 leads at the first and second technical time-outs. The Swiss girls coached by Timothy Lippuner managed to recover the huge gap with Laura Kuenzler again playing a leading role but Montenegro’s star player Bokan eventually brought the match to an end at 25-20.  

Pool F

Czech Republic vs. Greece 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-22)

The Czechs were chasing their fourth victory in Pool F and they started the match as the heavy favourites as they had claimed a 3-0 victory a week ago against the same opponent. But there was not much to separate the two teams until the second technical time-out of the opening set. Evangelia Chantava and Eleni Kiosi paced Greece with unstoppable spikes, but Michaela Mlejnkova responded with seven points to push her team to a 1-0 lead.

The Czechs created an important gap already in the early stages of the second set, breaking away to 8-2 and 11-5 by combining a solid defence with a series of successful attacks. Greece head coach Dimitrios Floros tried to change the rhythm with time-outs and substitutions, but his team couldn’t regain the momentum they had showed in the first set.  

As it looked like the third set would be more or less one-sided with the Czechs leading 18-12, the Greeks almost closed the gap at 19-18, but could not edge ahead and ended up losing the match in three sets.

Alexander Waibl, head coach of the Czech Republic: “We lost concentration in the third set and Greece didn’t stop fighting. They made some substitutions and served good. I offered the chance to play to Marie Toufarova and it took some time for her to find the rhythm.”

Dimitrios Floros, head coach of Greece: “We have a very young team, new players joined the group before this season, but this is not an excuse. We played bad in defence and the Czechs were really good in that aspect of the game. They also played good when it comes to their counterattacks.”

Belarus vs. Slovenia 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-16)

Belarus claimed a 3-0 victory over Slovenia, thus destroying the hopes of their opponents to qualify to the EuroVolley Finals for the second time in history.

In the early stages of the first set the Slovenian servers put some pressure on the Belarussian receivers to claim a 5-3 lead, but Tatsiana Markevich capitalised on her experience for a breakthrough, thus moving the score to 10-7 for her team. The Slovenians fought their way back closing in at 12-13, but the perfect blocking of Belarus decided the fate of this set.

Belarus first claimed a three-point advantage at 11-8 in the second set, which came after another series of great blocks. Despite falling behind, the Slovenians kept fighting, but they failed to score with their counterattacks. Their opponents, on the other hand, extended their lead to 18-13 and closed the set by 25-17.
The score remained tight up to 4-4 in the third set but after that Belarus took the initiative. Aliaksandr Klimovich’s players delivered a strong performance and won the match convincingly by 3-0.

Marina Cvetanovic, team captain of Slovenia: “Belarus played at a really high level today, they were constantly putting pressure on us and they didn’t let us breathe. They deserved to win.”

Bruno Najdic, head coach of Slovenia: “Belarus played really good, they took every chance to score and today they proved they are the better team. I think we played much better than yesterday, we fought, but it just wasn’t enough. I am not disappointed that we lost against such a good team.”

Angelo Vercesi, assistant coach of Belarus: “We are very happy as we will finish this qualification round at least in second place. The focus of our girls was great today, they served really good and always put their block on the right place.”

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