Baku, Azerbaijan, June 28, 2015. Russia fulfilled their dreams at the 2015 European Games and claimed the bronze medal of the historic event held in Baku. The Russian team upset Poland 3:1 (26-24, 23-25, 25-23, 25-23) in a thrilling match celebrated on Sunday, and rounded off with the memorable and joyful finishing touch of the third position in the final podium two weeks of outstanding competition.
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Poland vs Russia 1:3 (24-26, 25-23, 23-25, 23-25)
On a day when the annals of Volleyball were set to be written at Crystal Hall arena in Baku, Dmitry Kovalev led his team to glory. The setter’s performance and Russia’s outstanding offensive strength helped Sergey Shlyapnikov’s men to make history at the inaugural European Games by accomplishing a hard-fought victory over Poland and becoming the first bronze medallists of the memorable event.
In front of numerous fans cheering for both teams, Poland wished to continue the example presented the previous day by their women’s team, and aimed at achieving a brilliant wrap up to the competition with yet another medal for the Polish delegation. This motivation assisted Poland in their intentions to face the powerful Russian side, while on the other side of the net, Russia demonstrated their recovery following the disappointment of losing the semi-final against Germany by getting back to the same physical display showed throughout the competition.
With these principles ruling the game, the first period went into a tight deadlock, in a succession of strong attacks and blocks. The struggle to impose dominance in the side-outs determined the encounter and continued until Russia managed to save a set ball with 24:24 in the scoreboard. After a spectacular rally finished by Victor Poletaev, Sergey Shlyapnikov’s men closed the extremely equalised set 26-24.
Poland quickly reacted to this momentary upset and toughened their blocking system to take an early lead in the second period. The offensive contribution by Dawid Konarski and Aleksander Sliwka also boosted the Polish preeminence in the period and a two or three-point advantage soon appeared in the Poles’ scoreboard (16:14, 21:18). Despite the Russian attempts to go for a comeback, Poland finished the period with a spike by Aleksander Sliwka (25-23), thus producing a restoration of the tie in the game 1:1.
Using the momentum acquired in the previous period, Poland extended their dominance at the beginning of the third set 8:5. The attacks finalised by their two main offensive aces, Dawid Konarski and Aleksander Sliwka provided an edge for Poland that Russia struggled to eliminate. As the period progressed, the Russian efforts paid off, and the impeccable distribution by Dmitry Kovalev as well as the compelling attacks by Victor Poletaev and Ilia Vlasov put Sergey Shlyapnikov’s men again on the lead (22:20). Russia completed the reaction 25-23 and put the match on route to victory.
Dmitry Kovalev’s figure then appeared and the 1.98-metres tall setter’s excellence in the second touch wrapped up the match for Russia. As the Russian star wisely distributed the powerful offensive resources of his team, Poland strived to cut their rivals’ impulse. In fact, the Polish players clanged to their chances to win the match when they came back after a five-point disadvantage in the fourth period to produce equality in a heart-gripping end of set. However, Poland’s attempts ended up being cancelled out, as Russia used their first opportunity to close the match and achieved the definitive 25-23.
Russia reach the third position of the final podium and claim a remarkable bronze medal in the inaugural European Games to add to the sensational tally of awards in international competitions for the four-time Olympic gold medallists, six-time FIVB World Championship gold medallists and 13-time winners of the CEV European Championship.
“We came here to win the gold medal, that was what we were focussed on. Even though we have won the bronze medal, we are disappointed. But of course I am glad that we won a medal after all since the level of the teams in the tournament has been high. When Poland won six points in a row in the fourth set, I thought that they would win the set. But luckily they made two mistakes and we were able to take advantage of that and won the set and the match. This team is very young and many of our players expect the European Games to be a step on the way to the A-team. That way is a little longer now, as we did not win gold,” said the captain of Russia Dmitry Kovalev.
“We are all very disappointed. Especially after we made a huge comeback in the fourth set, but we did not manage to close the set. I think that it was a good match from both sides. I would like to focus on the positive aspects of having played the European Games. We have a good group of players with great team spirit. Unfortunately it was not enough to win a medal. But it has been a big boost of experience for all to play here in Baku and it will definitely help all of us to grow as players as well as persons,” said Szymon Romac of Poland.