Austria crown first ever Final Four appearance with historic bronze medal
2016 CEV Volleyball European League - Men
Varna, Bulgaria, July 2, 2016. Following their semi-final upsets on Friday, Austria and Bulgaria faced each other in the 2016 CEV Volleyball European League – Men bronze medal match at the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna. Austria defeated hosts Bulgaria 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-23), thus settling for third place at their first ever Final Four appearance.
Austria began the match with a few nervous moves, but Thomas Zass put the team back on track to tie 2-2. A duel at the net between Dobromir Dimitrov and Alexander Tusch gave a point to Bulgaria when Dimitrov managed to push the ball on the Austrian side of the net. His ace provided the Bulgarian team with a 7-5 lead and the advantage was kept until the first technical time-out followed at 8-6. The Austrians tied at 9-9, scoring three points in a row, but Bulgaria remained one step ahead with 12-11 after a block on Zass. His team edged ahead for the first time at 14-13, but another block on Zass made it 15-15 again. The second technical time-out came with Austria 16-15 ahead when Paul Buchegger scored with an attack through the middle. Both teams kept the score tight, but Austria called a time-out when Bulgaria moved the charts from a 17-18 deficit to a 19-18 lead after a spike from Martin Atanasov and a double block on Alexander Berger. A second block on Berger and a long rally finished by Bulgaria put the home team ahead again at 21-19, forcing Austria to call another time-out. Berger redeemed himself with a spike and an ace, with a following block of Peter Wohlfahrtstätter and Zass to tie the score at 22-22. David Michel was subbed in for Wohlfahrtstätter to trouble Bulgaria with a float serve, which paid off as the Bulgarians made an error giving Austria set ball at 24-23. An ace of Michel ended the opening set for Austria 25-23.
Teams came back to the court with a levelled performance on both sides, going point by point until Bulgaria claimed a small lead 5-4 after Velizar Chernokozhev’s attack. Austria took over the advantage with 8-6 at the first technical-time out after a diagonal spike by Anton Lukas Menner. An exchange of dynamic and powerful spikes involving Nikolay Kartev, Zass, Trifon Lapkov and Wohlfahrtstätter moved the score to 11-11. A block and spike of Zass put Austria 14-12 ahead and Bulgaria called their first time-out in this set. Austria remained in front at the second technical time out (16-13), the advantage was then stretched to 18-13, putting Bulgaria in a difficult position. Michel was subbed in again and scored an ace, keeping Austria at safe (20-14). A long rally ended with a spike through the block by Berger for 22-15 and Austria started its march towards a set point, but Bulgaria fought back, scoring three points in a row for 22-18, pushing Austria to stop the game with a time-out. The Bulgarians scored with a block after the break, but Svetoslav Gotsev received a yellow card as a warning for extended discussions with the opposite team. Two long serves stopped Bulgaria’s scoring streak and Austria got their first set ball at 24-20 before winning the set 25-21.
The Austrians didn’t let the steam go, as the team remained motivated since the beginning of the third set, leading 6-3 after an ace by Berger. Bulgaria took an early time-out. Zass helped Austria maintain their advantage at the first technical time out with 8-5, but a triple block on the Austrian opposite helped Bulgaria close in to 9-8. Zass fixed his flaw in the next action, keeping Austria 10-8 ahead. Despite Bulgaria’s patient attempts to tie the score, Austria kept the control over the match, with an over-kill by setter Maximilian Thaller to go 16-12 at the second technical time-out. Bulgaria called a second time-out, when Austria ran away to 19-13. Despite the dramatic attempts to chase the score and narrowing the gap to 20-16, the Bulgarians couldn’t break through as Austria got a match ball at 24-18, but two points later coach Michael Warm called a time-out as the team couldn’t seal the deal. The second time-out was called at 24-22, after an ace of Bulgarian spiker Atanasov. The same player showed nerves of steel, as he carried on serving to 24-23, but his team made a mistake and after confirmation of the video challenge Austria cashed the third set 25-23 and with it the match 3-0.
Michael Warm, coach of Austria: “Maybe we decided too early that it was over and Martin Atanasov made some really good serves, putting us in real trouble. This can always happen in Volleyball, that if you have a good serve, you can take full advantage of it. Nevertheless, we were mentally strong enough to close it. It was a short but tough match and we are happy we got bronze from the European League this year.”
On recovering from the loss in the semi-final against the Former Y.R. of Macedonia: “Yesterday we had many chances and in the last set we lost a little bit of concentration, but we all have to learn from matches like that. Today we had a good answer to that loss.”
David Michel, outside spiker of Austria: “It was the first time when I was subbed in at the end of the set to serve. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out really well, so my coach knew what he was doing. The whole team kept serving with consistency throughout the entire match. We were better in this element comparing to the semi-final and that was the key to our victory. Let’s hope next year we will serve like that already in the Final Four semi-final, not only in the bronze medal match.”
On the end of the third set, when Austria wasted five match balls: “Bulgaria is the kind of team that can make a comeback at any time, despite any gap. They play with emotions and this helped them carry on fighting in the third set. Their fans supported them very well and after defending two match balls they sensed they still had a chance to chase us. They gave it all, but this last point was lucky for us and we won.”
On recovering from the setback in the semi-final against the Former Y.R. of Macedonia: “To be honest it was tough after the match. The mood in the team was bad and we barely spoke with each other. The atmosphere dropped and the silence accompanied us until late at night. But after we slept it over, we felt better. We knew this is our first Final Four and this was our main goal this year - to advance to this stage of the competition. Third place isn’t bad at all and we will see next year if we can improve on this result.”
Head coach of the Bulgaria, Miroslav Zhivkov: “After these two matches I’m satisfied because I saw that the players and the team have progressed. I’m not satisfied with the semi-final because we needed just a little bit of luck in the tie-break to qualify for the final today. It was a really tough loss for us. I think that with these young players we deserved to play for the gold medals. Today emotionally we didn’t manage to keep our heads up. We didn’t manage to show our best performance.”
Bulgarian outside spiker Martin Atanasov: “As everyone says about the Bulgarian national team – they are always fourth. We couldn’t change this trend in the European League Final Four. We had a really big desire to win this title. We wanted to play for the gold medals and we were so close yesterday. We had a match point, but something went wrong in the end and obviously we didn’t have enough luck. Today it was really difficult. We played against a good team like Austria but the biggest problem was to keep going after the loss we suffered in the semi-final. Emotionally we were absolutely exhausted.”
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