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24/05/2017 23:21
Volleyball powers start quest for ticket to World Champs with compelling wins
2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championship - Men

Luxembourg, May 24, 2017. As many as six qualifiers to the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship are taking place this week – with the eventual winners securing their progression to the final stage of the competition hosted by Italy and Bulgaria. Wednesday’s programme featured 18 matches in total, with all pre-favourites and Volleyball powers – primarily France, Germany, Serbia, and Russia – securing easy wins in their respective pools. The Netherlands and Greece are the two teams with a perfect record of two wins in as many matches in Pool B where actions started already on Tuesday in Koog aan de Zaan.

Pool A in Lyon (FRA)


Turkey vs. Azerbaijan

Turkey started their campaign in Lyon with a compelling 3-0 victory (25-21, 25-21, 25-13) over Azerbaijan after 76 minutes of play. The Turks rightfully claimed their first victory at the tournament with Yigit Gülmezoglu top scoring with 18 points. After a shaky start to the match with many mistakes from both teams, Turkey edged ahead with the help pf their opposite hitter Gülmezoglu before outside spiker Gökhan Gökgöz ended the first set with two consecutive aces. History repeated itself in the second set whereas the third one was more one-sided with Turkey claiming a massive early lead (8-2) and cruising to a landslide 25-13 win.

Josko Milenkoski, head coach of Turkey: “This is our first official match together. I joined this team one month ago only. We have some problems with injuries, and some of the best players are not here but we are satisfied with this result, especially since we won in three sets. Now we are taking it one match at a time. The most important matches, against France and Germany, are coming soon.”

Arslan Eksi, captain of Turkey: “In every tournament the first game is always difficult. We are a young team, and we did not play any friendly games before coming here. As a result, this is a good start. Tomorrow we play Iceland and it will be a good preparation for us for the next game against France. For a first day, the result is ok. We will fight for every game.”

Aleksey Chervyakov, player of Azerbaijan: “We struggled in reception. We were often behind and did not manage to take advantage of some situations. We fought for two sets but could not do the same in the third one.”



Iceland vs. France

The reigning European champions from France started their home campaign with a compelling 3-0 (25-8, 25-8, 25-14) victory over Iceland in a matchup where their head coach Laurent Tillie could test some younger players – and they all did a great job. 2,400 fans witnessed the European champions play with most of their second lines and the audience enjoyed discovering the skills of young, up-and-coming players such as opposite Stephen Boyer (14 points, including four aces) and middle blocker Barthélémy Chinenyeze (eight points). France made a few more mistakes in the third set where the hosts gave away a few easy points to their opponent – but this did not prevent them from cruising to a speedy 3-0 victory.

Benjamin Toniutti, captain of France: “The most important thing was to respect the other side, that means to play at our best level and that is what we did. We need to think immediately about tomorrow’s match against Ukraine, a physically strong team. We will have to be patient and to play clever as we are used to do.”

Laurent Tillie, head coach of France: “We could see that the new young players are able to find a place in this team and even the older ones are sometimes admiring them.”

Alexander Stefansson, captain of Iceland: “It’s something new for us, it’s an experience that we needed, and it’s really fun. I felt the pressure during the first few points, but after that, we were simply trying to enjoy the moment. We were not looking for a result in this match, and the biggest thing was to enjoy it.”

Rogerio Ponticelli, head coach of Iceland: “We knew it was going to be difficult, but it was a good first match for us. It was the first time we played in such a big sports hall, with this kind of top players on the other side of the court. You could feel a lot of positive vibe and energy.”

Germany vs. Ukraine

Volleyball legend Andrea Giani and his team did not miss the opportunity to start their campaign on a high note as they rallied past Ukraine in three sets (25-16, 25-20, 25-19). With György Grozer back with the team for the first time since January 2016 and two top outside hitters, Germany seem a serious candidate for the sole ticket at stake to make it straight to next year’s World Championship. After having announced his retirement from the national team in January 2016 as Germany failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics, Grozer (13 points) is back and everyone in attendance in Lyon could feel it. The first set was a pure formality for Germany with Ukraine’s reception destroyed by German powerful services (25-16). Ukraine fought a bit back in the early stages of the second set but Germany edged ahead at 7-4 and did never relinquish their lead (25-20). The match became a lot tighter in the third set where Ukraine second setter Volodymyr Kovalchuk changed the pace of their game but in the end, Germany prevailed once again (25-19).

Andrea Giani, head coach of Germany: “The first match of a tournament is never easy but we started well especially with Grozer and good services. It was an interesting game because Ukraine is a strong team. I think we have good chances to qualify but we will play against big teams such as Turkey and France, the reigning European champions, whom I played in the 2015 final with Slovenia. We have a lot of potential but it won’t be easy.”

Lukas Kampa, captain of Germany: “It’s the best possible start we could have here, winning in straight sets and not playing for too long, so we could save some energy. We did the right first step today and as from now, we will improve our game with every match. We have a good feeling, a good spirit, there is a great atmosphere inside the team and we will need this for the rest of the week.”    

Ugis Krastins, head coach of Ukraine: *They came out with strong services, it was truly something huge and we were not able to handle this situation. During the third set, we controlled our game much better and found confidence but still the Germans were stronger. Every game represents for us a new lesson to learn.”

Pool B in Koog aan de Zaan (NED)


Austria vs. Greece


The battle between Austria and Greece was the most intense one so far at the World Championship qualifier in Koog aan de Zaan. The emotions ran high at some point, especially among the Greek players. After a few very close sets, Greece claimed a 3-2 victory (26-24, 27-25, 16-25, 23-25, 15-13) to keep a perfect record in the tournament. Top scorer Mitar Tzourits (28 points) commented: “Of course we preferred a 3-0 victory, but since victories are more important than points, we are also happy with this 3-2 score.”


The Netherlands vs. Republic of Moldova

On Tuesday, The Netherlands played rusty in their opening match against Luxembourg. The ‘orange team’ booked a 3-1 victory, but the level of play was not always convincing. On Wednesday, however, the squad of head coach Gido Vermeulen played a perfect match. Opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz, the former setter of the team was the absolute star of the game as the Oranjes rallied to a 3-0 victory (25-15, 25-13, 25-16). He scored 20 points out of 21 attempts, this accounting for a terrific success rate of 95%. “We played very well today,” commented Vermeulen. “This is the level we can play at and we want to show.”

Slovakia vs. Luxembourg

Slovakia was much too strong for Luxembourg in the first set (25-17), but in the second and third sets, the two teams played almost at the same level. Luxembourg, the gold medallists from the Small Countries Division European Championship held two weeks ago in Iceland, missed some opportunities and Slovakia took advantage of that, thus cruising to a 3-0 victory (25-17, 27-25, 26-24) to bounce back from their 1-3 loss to Austria the day before. Miroslav Palgut, the Slovakian coach, reacted after the match: “We played well at the end of two close sets, and that’s what’s most important to me. After our loss to Austria, qualifying for the World Championship will be hard, but we will try everything we can to make this happen.”

Pool C in Ljubljana (SLO)

The opening day of the 2018 FIVB Men’s World Championship qualifier in Ljubljana provided two straight 3-0 victories for Belgium and Slovenia in their respective matches with Portugal and Georgia and a much more exciting match between Israel and Latvia, which ended after a dramatic fifth set in favour of the Israeli side.  

Portugal vs. Belgium

Belgium team captain Sam Deroo was satisfied with the performance of his team: “We played with much consistency and were better in every aspect of the game. Our team showed that we can play without making mistakes and with Portugal making a lot of them, it was a bit easier for us to claim the victory,” he said after the Red Dragons stormed to a 3-0 victory (25-17, 25-16, 25-16) in 73 minutes.



Slovenia vs. Georgia

In the second match of the day, Slovenia head coach Slobodan Kovač provided some of his youngsters with the opportunity to play and they paid back his trust with a strong performance. Matej Kok, a 20-year-old outside hitter who just signed a contract with Poland’s MKS BEDZIN, commented after a comprehensive 3-0 victory (25-12, 25-11, 25-12) for the home side: “It was a great opportunity for us, I mean for the younger players to show what we are capable of. It is true that Georgia was one of the easiest opponents in our pool, but I think we delivered a solid performance. This victory raised our self-confidence, but the toughest matches are yet to come,” he concluded.

Israel vs. Latvia

At the end of an exciting match, Israel celebrated a 3-2 victory (19-25, 25-20, 24-26, 25-22, 16-14) after coming back twice from one set down. “We tried to play with a lot of energy and fought for every rally. We do not have our best player with us at this tournament. Our coach wanted to give the opportunity to young players and I am happy that we won the game. We will give our best in the next matches as well,” Israel top scorer (29 points) Viacheslav Batchkala said.

Pool D in Tallinn (EST)

Montenegro vs. Russia


Montenegro netted the first three points of the match against Russia but after that, it was all about the gold medal winners from the 2012 London Olympics. Except for the end of the third set, the score was relatively close all the time but the Balkan team never grabbed the initiative. After 79 minutes of game action, Russia achieved a 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-18) victory. “The first game is always a little bit nervous but I am very satisfied with the result and it gives us a good starting point for the whole tournament,” Russia head coach Sergey Shlyapnikov said. “I am also happy that I had the opportunity to give playing time to younger members of our team,” he added. On the Russian side of the court, as many as twelve players entered the court but the best scorer was their superstar Maxim Mikhailov with 14 points.
Veljko Basic, head coach of Montenegro, stated that the result was logical and reflected the difference in power between the two teams. “We gave away too many easy points in every set. However, overall I am satisfied that we never gave up and that is a very good sign for the matches to come. We have to improve our service and counterattacks.”


Estonia vs. Romania

The hosts started impressively thrashing Romania 25-15 in the first set. After that, Estonia’s serve lost a bit of its riskiness and the opponents got back into the game, thus managing to win the third set. “Fortunately our team’s quality is good enough so that even after losing a set, we did not fall apart and we could still win the match,” Estonia libero Rait Rikberg said after a 3-1 (25-15, 25-21, 22-25, 25-16) victory. Estonia head coach Gheorghe Creţu added: “Romania took a lot of risks but when we managed to hit consecutive serves in the fourth set, we broke away and never looked back.”
Marian Iulian Bala - who was the best scorer for Romania with 15 points - said that it was a tough match for them. “There were moments where we lost our focus and the opponents managed to score three or four consecutive points. We have to avoid this kind of situations. In addition to that, I must say that Estonia was better than us today,” said the outside hitter. Romania had to play without their captain and team leader Laurentiu Lica who suffered an injury a few days ago.

Hungary vs. Kosovo

May 24, 2017 will remain a historic day for Kosovo’s Volleyball family since in Tallinn their men’s senior national team played the first international match in their history against Hungary. “It is a historic and very special moment for all of us. For the last 25 years we only had the chance to play inside Kosovo but now we can play against different countries,” team captain Valon Nikqi said proudly. Their debut was quite impressive. In the first set the score stood at 13-11 in favour of Kosovo but after that, Hungary made a 12-2 spurt. The game eventually ended in 63 minutes with the score of 3-0 (25-13, 25-17, 25-9). “Our preparation lasted only 10 days and this you can see from the result. I hope that in the coming matches we can improve our game,” head coach Miftar Ziberi added. His colleague Juan Manuel Barrial from Hungary said that although it was a relatively easy game if you look at the score, they made many mistakes, especially at the beginning of the match. “We were nervous and made many service errors. Until the middle of the second set, our game was so-so but then we improved our attack and things went better,” he said.

Pool E in Zagreb (CRO)

Denmark vs. Switzerland

Switzerland beat Denmark 3-1 (25-23, 19-25, 25-20, 25-18) in the first match of the tournament taking place at Bojan Stranic sports hall in Zagreb. After a close start to the match (9-9), Switzerland broke away with Jovan Djokic standing behind the service line and after that, the Swiss were able to hold on to their lead until the end. Denmark responded by taking the second set with the help of their outside spiker Rasmus Breuning Nielsen, but Sébastien Steigmeier (21 points) and Luca Ulrich (15 points) propelled Switzerland to a 3-1 victory in the end. Peter Trolle Bonnesen top scored for Denmark with 14 points.
 
Mario Motta, head coach of Switzerland: “I am really excited because this is my first match at helm of the Swiss national team. Both teams made many mistakes but when we were able to reduce ours, we could break away. Keeping calm and concentrated were the key to our success today.”
 
Mikael Trolle, Denmark head coach: “I am not happy with the performance of my team. We did not serve as we wanted and should, and that gave our opponent an opportunity to turn the game in their favour.”



Serbia vs. Belarus

The biggest favourite of the tournament in Zagreb, the Serbian national team, easily cruised to a 3-0 victory (25-17, 25-22, 25-15) in their matchup with Belarus. Serbia setter Nikola Jovović orchestrated his team’s game in the best way, thus confirming why Serbia belong to the European elite. On the other hand, Belarus seemed afraid of playing such a strong opponent – and Serbia rallied to an easy 25-17 win in the first set. Belarus played a lot better in the second set where they put up a fight but Serbia were too much to stand with Dražen Luburić and Uroš Kovačević top scoring in the end with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Pavel Kuklinski was the most prolific player for Belarus with eight points.
 
Vadzim Pranko, player of Belarus: “I think it was not easy because we played against a top team. In the second set, we played well. I think my team did not give their 100 percent, and we should do that in a match against such a strong opponent.”

Nikola Grbić, head coach Serbia: “We played with maximum concentration and this is something you could see. We did not relax at any time and I am very happy about it. If we play the next matches with the same concentration and at our level, I am convinced that no opponent can disrupt our plan to qualify straight to the World Championship.”

Norway vs. Croatia

The first set of the match featuring hosts Croatia and outsiders Norway was a close affair up to 20-all before Croatia scored two points in a row and despite time-outs from both sides, the home stars were able to hold on to their small advantage (25-23). Filip Šestan opened the second set with a series of powerful serves for Croatia before Norway could finally stabilise their reception. Again, the score stood at 20-20 but this time around Norway were those who broke away (23-21) and eventually won the set (25-22). Croatia controlled the match from start to end of set three (25-19) and even though Norway put up a fight in the following set, Croatia broke away halfway through to claim their first victory on home soil (25-15).

Scott Olsen, head coach of Norway: “We have been preparing our team for the game with Croatia through a series of friendly matches. We are not happy with what we did at blocking and attacking. We have to make a better transition and be prepared for tomorrow.”

Ivan Rančić, head coach of Croatia: “We were visibly nervous in the first official game we had after a long break, and this is something you could obviously see, especially in the second set. When we got together, and we served well too, we achieved the goals we had set before the start of the game.”

Pool F in Karlovy Vary (CZE)

Finland vs. Cyprus

The opening match of the World Championship qualifier in Karlovy Vary brought a clear victory for Finland (3-0; 25-14, 25-13, 25-21) in their matchup with Cyprus. It was an expected win for the Finns but head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo did not hide his happiness: “It was important to win like this, not giving so much energy away because it’s a long tournament. The big goal was to pay attention to easy things – free balls, speak on the court and so on.” The Cyprus side was able to pose a threat only in the last set where they scored 21 points. “I am happy that in the third set we had to find solutions because the opponent came pretty close,” Sammelvuo added.



Northern Ireland vs. Czech Republic


In the second match of the day, the Czech team faced Northern Ireland. The Czechs are number 13 in the current FIVB Ranking, so they were the heavy favourites of the game with Northern Ireland standing a way down at 42 in that same chart. From the beginning of the match, it was obvious who was going to control the game and the hosts eventually won 3-0 (25-16, 25-7, 25-6). The Czech Republic currently share the first place in the pool with Finland and the home team’s captain Ales Holubec commented: “It was a hard match because the level of the game was a little bit lower than usual, with all due respect to the opponent. I hope that from tomorrow, we will be able to start up from the first set and we will focus on the next games.”

Sweden vs. Spain

The last match of the day featured Sweden and Spain and the latter ones emerged victorious at the end of a battle that lasted for five sets (25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 25-16, 15-12). The Spanish coach Fernando Muñoz Benitez said after the match: “In general we are happy to win this game because it is very important to start this tournament with a victory and to keep us calm. We had ups and downs during the game because I think that we lost focus at some point but we regrouped and eventually won the match.”

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the matches


News nr. 13 of 25
25/05/2017 23:04:00
‘Lange Mannen’ record third straight victory, all favourites win as Swiss sensation continues
23/05/2017 23:09:00
Oranjes and Greece victorious as Austria cause first sensation of World Champs qualifiers

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