Italy book last ticket to semis in Pool B after nail-biting drama, Russia celebrate third straight win
2016 European Olympic Qualification - Women
Ankara, Turkey, January 7, 2016. European champions Russia are untouchable and still undefeated at the women’s European Olympic Qualifier in Ankara. In the first match of the day in Pool B, it was Belgium’s turn to taste the Russians’ great strength in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-17) loss. Before the last pool match, Italy, Poland, and Belgium all had the chance to book a ticket to the semis. After a dramatic match where both teams in Baskent Hall were close to missing out on the semi-final spot, Italy made the cut with a narrow 3-2 win against Poland (25-18, 25-22, 22-25, 19-25, 15-13).
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Russia top scorer Tatiana Kosheleva: “I am happy with the win and I am happy with the performance of the team. I think it was important that we kept staying focussed even though we already qualified for the semi-final.”
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Russia vs Belgium 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-17)
Russia were already in the semi-finals whereas Belgium needed a win to book their ticket or the Yellow Tigers would have had to rely on the result of the last match in Pool B between Italy and Poland.
It was clear from the beginning that Pool B leaders Russia did not wish to suffer the same fate as Pool A leaders Turkey did on Wednesday, where the Turks lost in straight sets to the Netherlands. Russia were three points up at the first technical timeout (8-5) and five at the second (16-11). The Russian set win was never in danger and was cemented at 25-19.
Russian top scorer in the European Olympic Qualifier, Tatiana Kosheleva, continued her high level display of volleyball in the second set accompanied by her teammate and hard-hitter Nataliia Obmochaeva. The dynamic duo was a constant threat in the air making the life hard for the Belgian defence and creating a 9-4 Russian lead. The Yellow Tigers fought bravely and came close (12-11), but they saw the score board flip to 25-22 in favour of Russia as the second set came to an end.
You can affect a lot in volleyball with the right attitude. Belgium have one of the strongest cards in that matter with the charismatic Freya Aelbrecht on their team. It did not matter if the middle-blocker was on the court, on the bench, or standing together with rest of the substitutes, she managed to shout and infuse energy and courage into her teammates. As a result, Belgium only trailed Russia by a few points (15-12) in the third set. However, the Russians were simply too strong, and Yuriy Marichev’s team won 25-17.
“We have to get as much rest as possible as there is a big match awaiting us on Friday in the semi-final. We will be following closely which team we will play. No matter who it will be I am positive that we will qualify for Rio.”
Belgium captain Charlotte Leys: “Pre-game we were all super positive. We knew it would be very difficult to win against such a strong Russia, but if we could take a set or even more, then we just needed to hope for the result of Italy against Poland.”
“Against a Russia side like this, there was nothing much we could have done today, their two star players were unstoppable and scored almost 100 per-cent. We could not give an answer on it, it is sad but they stay the number one team in Europe, and we gave them a good fight, so there is nothing to blame ourselves for.”
“We are going to watch the game between Poland and Italy in the hotel or maybe even come back to the arena and keep our fingers crossed for a result in our favour. If we can continue to the next round it will be an easy thing to motivate my team again and then it is full power for going beyond that.”
Italy vs Poland 3-2 (25-18, 25-22, 22-25, 19-25, 15-13)
Italy qualified for the semi-finals after a dramatic five set win against Poland. It looked to be plain sailing for Marco Bonitta’s side after they went two sets up but a collapse put Poland back in the game.
As the first set began, it was the hands that did the talking. Poland started a bit shaky and trailed (8-5) due to Italy’s two sharp-shooters Valentina Diouf and top scorer Paola Egonu, who bombarded Poland from all angles. They made the Polish misery worse and worse with an 18-10 lead. Italy also attacked from the middle of the court where they scored their last point to win the set 25-18.
Poland’s struggle continued in the second set and coach Jacek Nawrocki called his first time-out when they were 5-2 down. The desired transformation did not materialise, and Nawrocki’s second time-out came at 9-4. One of Poland’s hardest struggles was to find a way pass the wall of Valentina Diouf and Anna Danesi who casted long shadows above the net and chipped in with important blocking points. Poland were breathing down Italy’s neck at 23-22, before an ace by Paola Egonu closed the set 25-22 and thus ruling out Poland’s chance of a semi-finals spot.
With Italy leading 2-0 in sets, Belgium had their fingers crossed for a Polish comeback. Poland’s top scorer in the tournament, Anna Werblinska, did what she could to save the Polish honour, spiking with precision to enforce an 8-4 Polish lead. Captain and setter Izabela Belcik had got the rhythm back in the Polish attack at 16-12, and with Berenika Tomsia finding her best game, Poland suddenly were back in the match celebrating their set win 25-22.
Both teams who refused to let the other get away. Poland’s Anna Werblinska had to be substituted at 10-9 in Poland’s favour after what seemed to be a stomach injury. However, she was back on the court at 14-13, just to see Italy score the equaliser. The set was still in balance at 18-all, but Poland suddenly exploded and won the set 25-19.
Trailing 4-3, Poland called a time-out, but still found themselves 8-5 behind when the teams swapped ends in the tie-break. Italy thought they had the ticket to the semi-final in their hands as they hit 15-11, but a touch challenge opened up the set at 14-12 instead. The Azzurre celebration burst out when 15-13 was confirmed.
Italy’s middle blocker Martina Guiggi: “The stress before going into the fifth set was very high. We started the game just thinking that we should try and do our best. We sat together in the locker room just before the match and we said that we had nothing to lose, so we just went on the field to do our best.”
“Right now I cannot feel the pain, it’s like you are still in the rush of the moment. Tomorrow will be more difficult, but I think at this point it all is more mental. So we need to focus on this and if the legs do not support you, you just need to play smarter.”
Poland’s Aleksandra Jagielo: “It was a very close match. We had everything in our hands, but lost in the end. That is sport. Unfortunately it does not always go the way you want it to. We got a bad start in the tournament, and that affected us in some kind.”
“I am glad I had the chance to play this tournament. It was a great experience with a great team. I hope that Poland can build on the experience gained here in Ankara and hopefully qualify for the Olympics in the future.”