Estonia rise to the occasion to win historic European League title
2016 CEV Volleyball European League - Men
Varna, Bulgaria, July 2, 2016. Estonia claimed on Saturday a historic CEV Volleyball European League gold medal as the Baltic team had never won the competition before. They did so by sweeping the Former Y.R. of Macedonia aside 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-23) in the final match contested on Saturday afternoon at the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna. Both teams had competed against each other before, and more specifically had crossed their ways in the semis of the 2015 European League, when the Former Y. R. of Macedonia defeated Estonia in straight sets. A year later Estonia left the disappointment behind, reaching their dream of winning the European League and putting forward their candidature to join the 2017 edition of the elite FIVB Volleyball World League. As for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia, the team captained by ‘scoring machine’ Nikola Gjorgiev have to be content with the silver medal for a second straight year.
A spike through the middle by Gjoko Josifov opened the match with a slight lead for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia at 3-2, but two aces by Robert Täht put Estonia ahead 5-3. A double block on Nikola Gjorgiev stopped the match at the first technical time-out with an 8-5 lead for Estonia. Gjorgiev responded with an over-kill to come closer to 9-7, but his teammate Aleksandar Ljaftov served in the net, keeping Estonia three point in front. A one-hand set by Filip Despotovski was finished with a spike of Gjorgiev, while Estonian setter Kert Toobal showed his tricks and tipped the ball from the second touch as well. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia was forced to call a time-out, when Estonia stretched their lead to 13-9. Two blocks by Andri Aganits took Estonia to 16-10 at the second technical time-out. Powerful spikes of Ljaftov and Gjorgiev improved the game of their team, but Estonia kept the pace high leading 21-15. Estonia called a first time-out despite leading 22-17, trying to distract Gjorgiev, who went to serve and scored an ace. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia saved the first set ball of Estonia with a spike by Josifov through the middle, but the Estonians finished the set an action later 25-19.
The Estonians opened the second set 4-0 with a great serve from Keith Pupart and the Former Y.R. of Macedonia called an early time-out. The Estonian streak continued to 7-0 and it was a net touch fault that took Pupart off the service area. His team still set the pace at the first technical time out 8-1. Gjorgiev scored twice in attack and Risto Klopcheski added an ace, but Estonia still led 10-4. Robert Täht finished a long rally with a dynamic spike to maintain the lead at 12-5 for Estonia. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia took a second time-out when Aganits blocked Josifov for 14-6. The game was stopped for the second technical time-out at 16-7. Every element worked for Estonia, despite single attempts of Macedonian opposite Gjorgiev, who spiked to give his team a 12th point. The set point came at 24-13 and Renee Teppan closed the set out with an ace at 25-13.
The third set started with a tough fight. It took a jump over the barrier for Täht to save the ball, but the Former Y.R. of Macedonia scored the point, going ahead with another successful action for 6-4 and Estonia called a first time-out. Gjorgiev and his team kept the two-point advantage until the first technical time-out. The Estonians tied at 9-9, but their opponent edged ahead again at 11-9. Täht stepped in with an attack off the block and an ace to tie 11-11 and take Estonia 12-11 in front. A time-out was called for the Former Y.R. of Macedonia for the first time in this set. Teams continued even at 13-13, but Teppan showed his serving skills for 15-13. The Estonian advantage was maintained at second technical time-out which followed at 16-14. After the break teams went even again at 18-18, but the Estonians edged 21-19 ahead when the usually unstoppable Gjorgiev spiked out of bounds. The Former Y.R. of Macedonia came as close as to 23-22, but Aganits got the match ball for his team with a winning spike. Gjorgiev saved the first match ball tipping off the block, for 24-23. The second attempt, however, went without any effort for Estonia as a service error by the Former Y.R. of Macedonia finished the match 25-23.
Robert Täht, outside spiker of Team Estonia and MVP of the Final Four commented: “Yesterday we didn’t serve well and today we improved in this element. That’s the reason why we succeeded in winning this match against the Former Y.R. of Macedonia. We don’t have one single leader, each time a different player can lead us to victory and sometimes it’s all of us who contribute to the result. It’s a sweet revenge for the loss in last year’s semi-final, but of course it’s nothing personal against the Macedonian players. Back then they beat us in straight sets, which is always painful and we remembered it very well, so we are happy we could do the same this time.”
On the MVP award: “I’m really surprised and in my opinion the whole team is the MVP of this tournament. They make me a better player and I like to think I make them better too. I’m really happy with this honour.”
Gheorghe Cretu, coach of Estonia: “The serve was the element I wasn’t happy with yesterday. We lacked consistency in the semi-final and after each set we won, we relaxed and lost our concentration. That wasn’t the problem today, neither with our serve nor with our focus. Today the idea was not to make the same mistake again, we wanted to keep them down with our serve, but we needed to continue in the same way set after set. I knew we had to keep risking to pressure them and even if we lost some points, our opponent knew we were not holding back at the service line.”
“We know the Former Y.R. of Macedonia very well, we played them last year. They defeated us in the semi-final last year, they were very organised back then. Today we were ready for everything and we were able to use our skills to take the title home.”
Team Former Y.R. of Macedonia
The captain of the Former Y.R. of Macedonia, Nikola Gjorgiev said: “Today we played really bad. The match was absolutely the same like the final from last year. We were scared and we didn’t play well, but this is normal. My teammates play in not so strong clubs and when they have an opponent like Estonia they feel a different type of pressure. We had a lot of problems today but Estonia is a strong team. They have a lot of players playing in some of the most competitive European national leagues. Obviously I wanted the gold medal, now I have silver and I hope next year to have another opportunity to win the European League.”
The setter of the Former Y.R. of Macedonia, Gjorgi Gjorgiev said: “I’m upset but today we just didn’t perform in reception. The Estonian players, on the other hand, served really good. They put us under a lot of pressure and we just got scared. We tried to do our best but maybe today was not our day. But after all, nobody expected from us before the European League that we would play in the Final Four, we won seven matches in a row and had a chance to win the title. Three of our best players were missing compared to last year’s Finals. I think that with them on the court this generation is strong enough to win the European League and to play in the World League one day.”
The head coach of Macedonia, Zarko Ristoski said: “First I want to congratulate the Estonian team. At the press conference before the tournament I said that they were the biggest favourites here. Today they played better than us in all elements but even that I can only be proud of my players. They are real national heroes. Seven wins, one loss only and a silver medal. I think that at the moment this is the best we can achieve. I also want to congratulate the hosts for the perfect conditions they offered here in Varna during the first tournament and now in the Final Four as well. Everything here was just perfect. In the future we will always remember Varna with a smile. We have great memories and it will be nice to come here again!”
Click here for more info including detailed stats of the match
2016 CEV Volleyball European League – Men Final Four ‘Dream Team’
MVP: Robert Täht (EST)
Best Setter: Kert Toobal (EST)
Best Opposite: Nikola Gjorgiev (MKD)
Best Outside Spiker: Robert Täht (EST)
Second Best Outside Spiker: Alexander Berger (AUT)
Best Middle Blocker: Svetoslav Gotsev (BUL)
Second Best Middle Blocker: Peter Wohlfahrtstätter (AUT)
Best Libero: Rait Rikberg (EST)
2. Former Y.R. of Macedonia