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31/05/2017 22:49
Top teams off to flying start in women’s World Champs qualifiers
2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championship - Women

Luxembourg, May 31, 2017. The top favourite teams – i.e. Russia, Croatia, Belgium, Italy, Bulgaria, Turkey and Germany – caught a promising start to their campaign in the second round of European qualifiers to the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Japan 2018. They all claimed their respective opening matches in three sets to cement their status as ‘hottest’ candidates to book a ticket to Japan. Azerbaijan and The Netherlands achieved the same feat in Pool E – and actually they repeated it for the second day running, since they started their campaign on Tuesday already and they have not dropped a single set this far at the tournament being held in Azerbaijan’s capital.

Pool A in Osijek (CRO)

Russia vs. Austria

Russia are certainly the clear-cut favourites to claim a ticket to next year’s World Championship from Pool A and they cemented this role from the very first match they contested in Osijek, routing Austria in three sets (25-14, 25-13, 25-15). Russia coach Vladimir Kuzyutkin could use almost all of the players on the roster and was visibly satisfied with the result. Kseniia Parubets (Ilchenko) top scored for Russia as Srna Markovic paced Austria in their losing effort. Austria head coach Svetlana Ilic commented: “I am pleased with the performance of my players. We are playing in a very difficult and challenging pool, but my players are happy that they can measure themselves up against such world-class opponents.”

Greece vs. Hungary

The second match of the day was much closer and a lot more dramatic, with Greece eventually edging Hungary at the tiebreak (25-18, 20-25, 20-25, 25-21, 15-13). It was difficult to predict the outcome of the match, especially in the fourth set where Hungary enjoyed a small advantage and eventually called for the tiebreak. Greta Szakmary and Bernadett Dekany top scored for Hungary as Anthi Vasilantonaki and libero Areta Konomi were the key players in Greece’s eventual victory. Hungary coach Alberto Salamoni commented: “We are disappointed, especially since we were that close to winning the match. We played well and we hope for a positive result in tomorrow’s game with Austria.”

Georgia vs. Croatia

Hosts Croatia easily beat Georgia 3-0 (28-26, 25-11, 25-18) even though the first set was kind of shocking for the home fans as the Croatian team had to work hard and fight until the end before emerging victorious. The following two sets were a lot easier and Croatia eventually celebrated a 3-0 victory to start their home campaign in Osijek and quest for a spot to compete at next year’s World Championship in Japan.

Pool C in Sofia (BUL)

Turkey vs. Kosovo

Turkey comfortably claimed the first set of their matchup with Kosovo and after that their Italian-born coach Giovanni Guidetti made some substitutions without affecting the final result (3-0; 25-5, 25-13, 25-10) in any way. Meryem Boz top scored for Turkey with nine points as Fjolla Shabani scored four times for Kosovo in their first ever international match.

Nazmie Ibrahimi, player of Kosovo: “This match was really special for me and my team, because for the first time in history we represent our country in such a big tournament. As you know we are the youngest country in Europe and it is great pleasure to be here. Turkey is a great team, we knew that and we tried to do our best. However, for us it is important to continue to work even harder and hopefully one day we will be able to put up a fight and be successful even when playing strong opponents such as Turkey.”   

Lorik Ilazi, coach of Kosovo: “This is the first international competition for our women’s national team. The level here is really high. For our team this tournament is really important because we will have the opportunity to learn and gain some valuable experience. This is our main goal here, not the results. Turkey is just too strong for us. We have a programme for the next years to develop our young players and to build a strong team.”  

Güldeniz Önal, player of Turkey: “We tried to play with a lot of discipline in all aspects of the game. If our block did not work so well, they ended up scoring, so this means that we have to improve on this element for the next matches. However, I am confident that the level of our performance will improve in time for the big match with Bulgaria. Step by step, match after match we will play better and better.”

Giovanni Guidetti, head coach of Turkey: “Of course, it was not a difficult match and I’m happy because all of my players had the opportunity to take to the court. This is only the first day of the tournament and it’s really important that all players join the competition and feel the atmosphere of it. I am very happy with this. Kosovo tried their best and I want to congratulate them because they never gave up. They fought for every ball even when the situation was difficult. Respect for Kosovo!”

Bulgaria vs. Switzerland

Hosts Bulgaria started in the best way their campaign in Pool C with a comfortable 3-0 (25-8, 25-9, 25-20) victory over Switzerland. After the first two sets, Bulgaria head coach Ivan Seferinov made some substitutions and Switzerland managed to play better in the third, even though Bulgaria emerged victorious in the end. Nasya Dimitrova and Emiliya Nikolova scored seven points apiece for the “Lionesses”. Maja Storck finished the match as top scorer recording nine markers for Switzerland.

Emiliya Nikolova, player of Bulgaria: “We were really concentrated but as you could see from the third set, when we lose focus, we immediately start making mistakes. Tomorrow I expect to start with our six best players. For sure Romania is a tough opponent, but we won our last two matches against them last year and back then we showed that if we play at our level, they do not stand any chance against us.”

Gergana Dimitrova, player of Bulgaria: “In the third set we didn’t play as well as in the first two sets, but the most important thing is the final result. Romania play well, especially in defence. Now we will scout them and we will be ready for tomorrow’s match.”  

Sarah Troesch, player of Switzerland: “Bulgaria served really strong. They are very experienced and tall. Bulgaria played well from start to end and it was a little bit difficult for us, but I think in the third set we finally found our game. We scored 20 points and this is actually good. Bulgaria and Turkey are the best two teams in this pool but we will try to keep the level from the third set and take it to the next matches.”

Thays Deprati, libero of Switzerland: “For us it was a really difficult game. We had a lot of problems in the beginning but we played better and better as the match progressed. We have a good feeling and I think the last set was really much better and now we are in the tournament. We feel ready for the matches to come.”

Romania vs. Montenegro

Romania completed the programme of the opening day in Sofia with a comprehensive 3-0 victory (25-23, 25-15, 25-16) over Montenegro.

Dragan Nesic, coach of Montenegro: “Today the difference was 25 years. We had three players on the court who are only 15 years old. I am happy I can provide them with the opportunity to play at this level because they have a lot of potential and a bright future ahead. Congratulations to Romania. I hope in future my team will grow so that the next time we can beat them.”

Nikoleta Perovic, captain of Montenegro: “Romania is a good team. We started pretty well and we played really solid in the first set but after that we didn’t manage to bring out our best game.”

Madalina Angelescu, coach of Romania: “We are happy because my players performed really well. They played a good match. They understood the kind of spirit and motivation which they must have and show in a game like this. It’s very important to start the tournament with a victory, so for us this is a huge moment. Bulgaria is the best team in this pool. Tomorrow’s match will be a very difficult one. They have a lot of experience but we will try do our best and this is Volleyball, so you never know what can happen.”

Adina Salaoru, captain of Romania: “For us this is a very important tournament. We really, really wanted to start with a victory. We are glad that we finally managed to beat Montenegro, because we are teams of the same level but maybe today we were the luckier ones. Bulgaria is a really strong team but you know, anything can happen in sport.”
Pool D in Kortrijk (BEL)

As many had expected and predicted, the women’s World Championship qualifier in Kortrijk started with easy victories for hosts Belgium and Italy in their respective matches with Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Belgium beat Latvia 3-0 (25-17, 25-13, 25-12) and the coach of the Yellow Tigers, Gert Vande Broek, said: “It was a good way to warm up for the remainder of the tournament.” Italy showed little mercy for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the third and last match of the opening day (25-12, 25-12, 25-13). “We could try some tactics and test some players; we had a good start to the tournament by playing this kind of match,” said Italy coach Davide Mazzanti.

The result of the first match was a little more surprising as Belarus routed Spain in three sets too (25-14, 25-20, 25-13). Aliaksandr Klimovich, coach of Belarus, was obviously pleased with this result. “The way we won this match makes me happy and hopeful ahead of the next games,” he said. “Our tactical plan was good, we could read their game from the first minute, we remained concentrated until the end, our block was outstanding and our counterattacks worked well too. Of course, we have some experienced players on our team, but our setter remained calm all the time, and she listened to her coach,” he said. “What about the expectations for the rest of this tournament? Let’s enjoy the victory today, and after that we will be taking it one match at a time and see how far this is going to take us.”

Pool E in Baku (AZE)

The Netherlands vs. Norway

The Netherlands – together with Azerbaijan the ‘hottest’ candidate for the top spot in the pool – added a second victory to their tally as they easily beat Norway 3-0 (25-11, 25-14, 25-13). The Netherlands showed an impressive quality in their game and as a result, they still have not dropped a single set in the two matches they have contested so far in Baku. Team captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues finished the match with nine points and said: “I think we delivered a very good performance, we have won two matches so far and we feel the rhythm of the game. I think we can do even better in the next matches against Israel, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The team is 100% ready for the matches still to come.”
Norway head coach Odd Atle Ekerhovd took some positives from the match despite the 0-3 loss. “We did a good job in reception and in some other aspects of the game. We keep on learning and we hope to play as good as we can in the next matches.”

Ukraine vs. Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan emulated the Netherlands as the hosts also claimed their second 3-0 victory in the tournament, this time dispatching Ukraine in three sets (25-17, 25-17, 25-21). Azerbaijan came out with all guns blazing leading 10-5 in the first set as Natalya Mammadova and Polina Rahimova joined forces to contribute to a real Volleyball show, finally resulting in a comfortable 25-17 win for the home side. Ukraine found their rhythm in the second set, thus claiming an early lead (8-5) before Azerbaijan responded to make it 10-all. Mammadova scored some terrific blocks and showed a very solid performance in reception as well to pave the way to another 25-17 set win for Azerbaijan. Ukraine attempted to change the course of the game in set three leading 16-14 at the second technical time-out, but Azerbaijan fought back (17-17) and eventually closed the match at 25-21.
“We needed a victory, especially since this match was very important for us. I think we did a good job, especially in reception. We immediately start preparing for the next matches as we want to extend our winning streak through to the end of the tournament,” said Azerbaijan libero Valeriya Mammadova (Korotenko).
“Azerbaijan played a really good game. We wanted to win but we missed our opportunities towards the end of each set,” said the head coach of Ukraine, Gariy Yegiazarov.

Denmark vs. Israel

Israel celebrated their first victory in Baku as they beat Denmark 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-18). Despite the final score, it was a fairly close match and the Scandinavians put up a real fight against a young Israeli team. They did so especially in the second set where they rallied to an 8-4 early lead before Israel fought back and eventually took three points from this match. Israel’s most experienced player, Anna Velikiy top scored with 24 points.

Pool F in Viana do Castelo (POR)

Germany vs. Slovenia

After a bit of slow start to each set, Germany could finally impose their rule and did so with their blocks and attacks to produce a 3-0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-22) victory in their matchup with Slovenia. Germany opposite hitter Louisa Lippmann was the top scorer of the match with an impressive personal tally of 21 points. “I am very happy and proud since we took three points while facing a team as good as Slovenia. The first match of any such competition always goes along with quite much pressure, since all the participating teams want to qualify to the World Championship,” said Felix Koslowski, Germany coach.

Portugal vs. France

The home team of Portugal, featuring several young players, some of them making their international debut, record a hard-fought victory over France 3-2 (25-21, 13-25, 23-25, 27-25, 15-13) which will certainly provide a further boost of motivation to the young Portuguese ladies. Manuel Almeida, Portugal assistant coach said: “Many young players gave their contribution to this win against such a strong team as France and that’s a huge motivation for this group.” Home star Julia Kavalenka was the best scorer of the match with 25 points.

Finland vs. Estonia

Later in the evening, Estonia claimed the ‘derby’ with Finland 3-1 (25-17, 17-25, 25-23, 25-20) to complete the programme of the first competition day in Viana do Castelo. Estonia comfortably took the first set before Finland imposed their rule in the second and did the same in the third set as well – this trend lasting up to the score of 20-15, where Estonia fought their way back to eventually emerge victorious at 25-23. Estonia continued from there to take the fourth set as well, thus sealing a valuable 3-1 victory. Estonia coach Andrei Ojamets was visibly happy: “This victory is very important to us since Finland are our neighbours. As a nation, they are much bigger than us, and there is a lot of rivalry between these two countries. Tomorrow we will have a totally different kind of match, since we will face Germany, the favourite of this pool, but we will see what we can achieve there.”

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the matches

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