Ankara, Turkey, January 9, 2016. European champions Russia booked their tickets for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after winning the final of the European Olympic Qualifier against the Netherlands 3-1 (25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-20). The game was a rematch of the 2015 European Championship final which Russia were also victorious in and their appearance in Brazil will be their sixth consecutive Olympics. The Netherlands still have another chance to go to Rio, but will have to secure their spot at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan later this year.
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Russia vs the Netherlands 3-1 (25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-20)
With the golden ticket in sight, Russia started the final well and were 8-5 up at the first technical time-out. The Netherlands trailed as much as 14-8 before some great serves by Anne Buijs got the Dutch back on track and they were only 16-13 down at the second technical time-out. Buijs had a great first set and together with Lonneke Slöetjes she made Russia’s coach Yuriy Marichev call a time-out when the Russian lead went down again to three at 22-19. However, the Dutch never managed to level the score and Russia took first set 25-21.
The match was also a meeting between the tournament’s three top scorers, Russia’s Tatiana Kosheleva and Nataliia Obmochaeva and the Netherlands’ Slöetjes. They all continued to score highly with the Russians one point up at the first technical time-out, but the Netherlands led by three at the second. Slöetjes gave her team their biggest lead at 19-15 after she took advantage of a poorly formed Russian block and the Netherlands levelled the set score after winning the second 25-22.
As the third set got underway, both teams continued their high level volleyball showing why they deserved to be in the final. In the previous set Dutch coach Giovanni Guidetti had brought Celeste Plak into action again for the first time since the opening match, and the outside spiker gave the Oranje new power in attack. However, Russia’s libero Anna Malova was playing well and contributed heavily to a 16-13 lead at the second technical time-out. The set was won 25-19 thanks to the hard-hitting hand of Tatiana Kosheleva.
Kosheleva and Irina Zaryazhko were Russia’s best blockers during the tournament. The pair stopped the Dutch attacks over and over again in the fourth set and the Russians could take a rest at the first technical time-out when they were 8-3 ahead. What seemed like a mountain to climb for the Dutch eased slightly when they trailed 12-10, but the Russian lead grew to 16-11 at the second technical time-out. Russia showed why they were undefeated in the Qualifier and celebrated their Olympic qualification by winning 25-20 as Obmochaeva hit the winner.
Russia coach Yuriy Marichev: “We have prepared for this tournament since May. The European Olympic Qualifier was a big goal for us. The Netherlands are not an easy team to play against, they are great. Giovanni Guidetti always manages to have his team well prepared with the right set of tactics. Right now it is a great moment for us. However, we cannot celebrate for too long as we need to keep practising and preparing for the Olympics.”
Russia’s Nataliia Obmochaeva who was top scorer with 24 points: “I am really, really happy. We are going to Rio! I think we played a very good match. We all came together as a team and played well in defence, attack and block – everything just worked great. We are definitely going to celebrate our win at the hotel tonight.”
Russia’s Tatiana Kosheleva: “I am so happy right now. The Netherlands are a strong team with superb defence, and they demonstrated their strength in the second set which they won. We lost our concentration a little, but luckily not for too long.”
“We have been training to perform in these kind of matches. I want to congratulate the Netherlands with a strong final, and wish good luck in Japan at the World Olympic Qualifier. We are going to celebrate a little bit tonight, that is for sure.”
The Netherlands’s coach Giovanni Guidetti: "I am honestly really proud and happy about how my team played today. Three months after the European Championship we played a completely different match against Russia. We start filling the gap between us and them. Russia are still one of the best teams in the world, but we did everything we could and brought beautiful volleyball to the fans. I need to say it again, I am really proud about my team today. I have a lot of respect for the Russian team and their coach, they are stronger than us. Not only in attack, not only in block, but also in defence. That is a lesson we will need to take from today's match. I am fully optimistic that my team can qualify for Rio in Japan. I think we need to go there with all our power, belief and confidence. I am sure that we will be able to do it in Tokyo.”
The Netherlands' Laura Dijkema: “I am extremely proud about my team, we really stepped up our game this time. We need to admit that Russia were the stronger team on the field. We played a much better game than what we did in the European Championship and that opens nice perspectives looking forward to Tokyo and Rio. So many of our fans made the last minute trip, that is a great feeling and I wish to thank them for always being there.”
The Netherlands' Robin de Kruijf: “During the European Championship, they punished us like little girls and now I am very proud that we gave them something to fight for. They are still the better team and that is reality. We are stepping up the game and I am sure that if we play like this, we will end up playing another game against them in Rio. We are becoming more popular in our home country, we start being on the front page of the newspapers and that has never happened. People start seeing that we really may have a shot at going to Rio and that is as good as writing history in the Netherlands.”