Estonia claim dramatic tie-break win to upset Bulgarian fans in Varna
2016 CEV Volleyball European League - Men
Varna, Bulgaria, July 1, 2016. Estonia were able to cancel a match ball for hosts Bulgaria in the dramatic tie-break that capped the second semi-final of the 2016 CEV Volleyball European League – Men (3-2; 25-18, 15-25, 25-19, 14-25, 17-15) to secure their spot in the gold medal match where they will be playing the Former Y.R. of Macedonia on Saturday, starting at 18:00 local time. This means that the 2016 edition of the CEV Volleyball European League will crown a new champion – for Estonia and the Former Y.R. of Macedonia have never stood on top of the podium since the competition was established back in 2004. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia will be trying to improve on the silver medal they won last year in Walbrzych, Poland. As for Estonia, their qualification for the ‘grand finale’ already accounts for their best result ever in the European League – and in any major international competition as well.
Estonia opened the match with a 4-1 lead after a double block and ran to 8-3 by the first technical time-out. Bulgaria chased the score with patience and a tip of setter Dobromir Dimitrov put the team only three points behind, but sharp as a needle Estonia stood firm with an advantage of five points at 11-6, when Bulgaria called another time-out. The Estonians continued to pressure the opponent extending the lead to 16-9 and 18-10. Trifon Lapkov eventually stepped in, causing some troubles to the Estonians with his serve and despite the 22-16 lead, coach Gheorghe Cretu took the safe card calling a time-out. His team eventually won the opening set 25-18.
Bulgaria teased by the score of the previous set, fired back taking the lead at 6-3. The Estonians struggled with the force of the hosting team, calling a time-out, but the Bulgarians were not distracted, continuing their scoring campaign to 14-9. Estonia tried its best, but the Bulgarians completely dominated the set. The longest rally of the match up to that stage was finished by a spectacular back row spike of Martin Atanasov for 21-13. Bulgaria’s captain Velizar Chernokozhev sealed the deal with a spike off the block at 25-15.
Estonia got back on track in the third set, as consistent play of the whole team with a double block on Zlatan Yordanov took the League Round Pool B winners to 8-5 at the first technical time-out. Keith Pupart made it 11-7 with a smooth spike by the block, but so Atanasov did as well in the following rally. Pupart was just flawless in this part of the set, stretching the Estonian lead to 15-10. The second technical time-out came at 16-11 for Estonia, when Pupart tipped by the third block to the line. A video challenge gave Estonia another point as the team maintained a safe advantage at 17-11. Nikolay Kartev tried to tip, but the Estonians stayed focussed and turned it into a point for 19-14. Bulgaria called time out at 20-14. Atanasov served an ace to the line, putting Bulgaria closer to 18-23 and Estonia called a time-out as well. The short break helped and the Estonians won the third set at 25-19.
The lead bounced back on the hosting team’s side as Bulgaria went 7-4 ahead in the fourth set. Atanasov continued to lead his team as he scored in diagonal attack to keep Bulgaria at a safe lead (9-5). His team sensed the chance to play a tie-break and with a huge support of their fans, Bulgaria jumped to a massive 16-7 advantage at the second technical time-out. Kert Toobal ‘cleaned’ the net for Robert Täht to spike from the back row, as the Estonians tried to narrow the gap down. A huge block on Renee Teppan moved the score to 20-8 for Bulgaria. The rest was a formality and Bulgaria won the fourth set 25-14.
An ace of Teppan opened the fifth set, but a block on Pupart made it 1-1. The game stopped at 3-1 for Estonia when Bulgarian libero Dobromir Ivanov seemed to have sustained an injury. The player was back within a minute and Bulgaria tied at 3-3 and Estonia called a time-out when Bulgaria scored another point. As they were back on court Estonia won three points in a row for 6-4. Teams changed sides at 8-7 for Bulgaria, but Estonia ran off to 11-9, quickly equalised by Bulgaria at 13-13. The game was played point for point with Bulgaria having a match point at 15-14 but a spike into the antenna of Jani Jeliazkov eventually finished the match 17-15 for Estonia.
Kert Toobal, team captain of Estonia: “It was a really difficult win. Last year we came to the Final Four with big expectations and lost in the semi-final. It was really important to us to get through this time. We made it one step closer to our goal - win the European League. It wasn’t a nice match, but in the Final Four only victory matters.”
On losing sets with a big point gap: “If only I knew. It’s just the way the game went for us. We started to struggle in the beginning of both sets and we just couldn’t come back. We were trying and hoping we would break through, but Bulgaria kept pushing and we started to make silly mistakes on side-outs. The negative emotions took over, but in the end in the fifth set we had perhaps more motivation or more luck and really wanted to win this match.”
Gheorghe Cretu, coach of Estonia: “It was a game of four, not two teams. In every set we could see a different team on each side of the net. There were a lot of emotions, the Bulgarian squad has a lot of young players who had to perform in front of their home crowd, they wanted to win badly. On our side we knew they would be risking everything. We didn’t know them very well and we felt like in every set we faced a different team, so it was hard to focus on some elements of their game. But in the end it was about us and how we can develop our game. We really want to win the gold medal and play World League next year at home, that’s why we felt the pressure of it at some moments during the match. I’m happy because my players believed in themselves and fought until the last moment. I have to congratulate Bulgaria, as they did the same.”
On losing sets with a big point gap in the perspective of the gold medal match: “I’m not worried, because I know why we were losing with such wide gaps. Whenever we are able to step ahead of our opponents, we have moments when we feel like the match will go easy from that point. I told my players today that the Bulgarians had nothing to lose and even if they had to play for three hours, they would keep fighting for each ball as they were playing at home. The Bulgarians risked a lot with their serve, but they also had problems with reception and we didn’t use it to our advantage. Bulgaria managed to keep us under pressure and that’s good for our progress.”
Miroslav Zhivkov, head coach of Team Bulgaria, said: “It was a really tough match between two strong teams which was won by only two points in the tie-break. We can only regret this match point which we had in the final fifth set. We couldn’t manage to close this match, but this is the weakness of a young team. In matches like this the players can grow and develop. We were fighting. We played with all our hearts and I’m sure that all of my players gave their 100% to win this game, but that’s it. Tomorrow we will play for the bronze medal. It will be very difficult; it will be tough. Austria is a good team with great players who play in some of the best championships in Europe, but we have to try to win for us and for our fans as well.”
Velizar Chernokozhev, the captain of the Bulgarian team, said: “Earlier this morning I fell ill. I had high temperature but the medical staff made everything possible during the day for me to be ready for the final. Unfortunately, in the tie-break I felt bad and I couldn’t finish the match. What was missing to win? Luck! Jani Jeliazkov (the second opposite) played really well in the final set. Yes, he spiked the last ball out of bounds but it can happen to me, and to anyone. So we had a match ball, but we missed it. We wanted to win so badly. Tomorrow we have another match against a strong opponent. We have to prepare as good as we can, come here and finish this first season in the European League in the best way.”
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