Unstoppable Gjorgiev helps Former Y.R. of Macedonia qualify to second straight #EuroLeagueM gold medal match
2016 CEV Volleyball European League - Men
Varna, Bulgaria, July 1, 2016. On Friday afternoon the Former Y.R. of Macedonia made it to another European League Final Four gold medal match after defeating Austria in a five-sets battle in the first semi-final of the day (25-23, 23-25, 17-25, 25-19, 15-13) at the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna. After winning the first set, the Former Y.R. of Macedonia lost track for another two to come back in the fourth, leading to a tie-break. Playing a gold medal match for a second consecutive year, the team is up to beat their own result from 2015, when the Former Y.R. of Macedonia won a silver medal after losing to Slovenia in the ‘grand finale’ of the CEV Volleyball European League.
Opposite Thomas Zass took Austria to an early lead at 4-2 with a powerful diagonal spike. A block by middle-blocker Gjoko Josifov claimed the first in a four-point streak that forced Austria to call a time-out when the Former Y.R. of Macedonia went 6-4 ahead. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia continued in this manner to keep the two-point advantage at the first technical time-out. Austria stroke back with their own scoring streak for 9-8. Although the Former Y.R. of Macedonia continued to chase the score, Austria remained ahead by one at 16-15. The Final Four rookies managed to stretch their advantage to 20-17, but their opponents fought back to 20-21. Alexander Berger maintained the gap with a spike, while captain Nikola Gjorgiev stepped in to tie at 22-22, pushing Austria yet again to call a time-out. Josifov block in the middle gave his team first set ball at 24-23. Zass spiked out of bounds and the Former Y.R. of Macedonia took the first set 25-23.
A long rally finished by Josifov's spike started the second set with a 4-4 tie, as both teams fought point by point since the very beginning. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia took an 8-7 lead at the first technical time-out and kept it until 11-9, when Austria fought back and after a long rally edged 13-12 ahead. The teams exchanged the lead back and forth up until Zass was blocked and scored the following rally, but the guys from Skopje called for the second technical time out with a 16-14 lead. Austria's Paul Buchegger served to the line, scoring two aces and tied the score 18-18. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia called a time-out to distract the server, but that didn’t stop Austria from stretching their positive streak to four points and cruising to a 20-18 lead. A challenge call gave Austria another point with Buchegger’s third ace, but the 2015 European League silver medallists got a point off a challenge too when they called a net touch, coming close to 21-22. Spikes exchange between Gjorgiev and Berger moved the set to 23-23. Austria managed to deal with the pressure this time and eventually won the set 25-23.
Austria opened the third set with a 2-0, but the Former Y.R. of Macedonia fought back to 3-4. The tension between both teams increased since the end of the second set and captain Peter Wohlfahrtstätter received a yellow card followed by a red for continuous discussions with the opposite team. His block made it 5-4 for Austria and his team reached 8-6 by the first technical time-out. Zass led the team in the next part of the match when the gap stretched to 14-10, giving the Former Y.R. of Macedonia no chance to respond. Austria’s great streak was taken to the second technical time-out at 16-11. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia called another time-out at 18-11 when things started to look bad for the team. Gjorgi Gjorgiev was subbed in for Filip Despotovski and his single block let the team come closer to 14-19. However, Austria closed the set with confidence at 25-17.
Captain Gjorgiev put all his anger in the serve, taking a 3-1 early lead for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia at the start of the fourth set. The team received warmer support of their fans as the 2015 silver medallists continued its run getting to 8-6 at the technical time-out. Austria called a time-out as the unstoppable Gjorgiev made it 10-7 with another strong diagonal spike. A series of blocks set the Former Y.R. of Macedonia on fire, but Austria kept fighting for every point, digging the ball out of the court if necessary. The scenario of this set turned in the Former Y.R. of Macedonia’s favour as the team led with the same difference as Austria in the set before, at 18-11. Although Austria tried their best to narrow the gap down, the Former Y.R. of Macedonia won the fourth set 25-19 stretching the match to the tie-break.
The fifth set kicked off with the Former Y.R. of Macedonia taking a slight lead 4-3 when Austria made two errors. Coach Michael Warm called a time-out to ease the nerves as every point counted in the last set. The team got back on court to claim three points in a row and the Former Y.R. of Macedonia called a time-out too when Zass served an ace for 6-4 for Austria. The time-out paid off with three points in a row for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia and teams changed sides at 8-7 for the 2015 European League silver medallists. Unstoppable for most of the match, Gjorgiev spiked out, putting Austria 11-10 ahead. Gjorgiev & Co. got their first match ball at 14-12, Austria defended the first before a serve in the net finished the match for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia (15-13).
Team Former Y.R. of Macedonia
Nikola Gjorgiev, who top scored in the match with 29 points, said: “I’m really happy. The League Round is one thing, but the Final Four is a different page in the book. If you lose here, you are out and your six previous wins won’t mean anything. I’m proud of my team and I knew it was going to be difficult against Austria. I saw their match against Estonia in Pool B, they played really nice. They have a lot of self-confidence. Two years ago we defeated them in the European League, but they are a different team now. They had nothing to lose.”
On the gold medal match preferred opponent: “I don’t know. Either way it will be tough. The semi-final itself will be a big clash. Estonia is technically the favourite as the Pool B winners, but Bulgaria is young and talented and if they can carry their momentum, they can make it to the final too.”
The coach of the Macedonian team Zarko Ristoski commented: “As we said yesterday [at the press conference], in Varna we feel like at home! We expected a really tough match and so it was. My players today showed again that miracles can happen. This is our seventh win in a row! This is a great success for such a young team like ours, and nobody – even the most optimistic person – could expect to achieve something like this. I’m proud of my players. For us this is the second final in a row in the European League! For the whole Macedonian Volleyball history this is a great, great result! We wait now for our opponent in the final. In the final there are no favourites or outsiders. We already showed this!”
Austria setter Alexander Tusch: “Going into this match we knew it was going to be a tough game against Macedonia. We played against them a lot of times the last two years. We wanted to take revenge for the losses but in the end we made some little mistakes and they, on the other hand, found the best solutions. I think they really wanted to win and we should congratulate them. Some little things were not enough for us to pull out a victory in the tie-break. We just could not stop the most explosive guy in their team, Nikola Gjorgiev. We need to work to be better in the most important moments of the match. Now we should rest and tomorrow we will try to win the bronze medal match.”
Austria coach Michael Warm: “All the five sets we played were really close. Both teams were fighting today to the best of their abilities and wanted to win this first semi-final. We played a good match. We led 2:1 in sets, but after that we made some unforced errors. In the fifth set Nikola Gjorgiev made more points all alone than we did as a team. We made some easy mistakes in the tie-break which we hadn’t made before. We delivered a good performance but surely we are sad because we didn’t manage to win this match against Macedonia. Surely we are the youngest team in the field but during the European League this year we played a lot of close matches and we did it well. Maybe today the atmosphere was a little bit different with these many Macedonian fans. Maybe this is a good experience for the players, today we didn’t succeed but next time I think we will!”
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