Poland, Italy make it three in a row at #FIVBMensU23 qualifier
2017 FIVB U23 Men's Volleyball World Championships - European Qualification
Zagreb, Croatia, July 29, 2016. On Friday Poland continued their show at the European qualifier for next year’s FIVB U23 Men’s Volleyball World Championship. The White-and-Reds lived up to their status of pre-favourites in the tournament sweeping Slovenia aside by three sets to none to claim their third win in as many matches they have contested in Zagreb – and they still haven’t dropped a set. This feat was equalled by Italy later in the evening with the ‘Azzurrini’ stamping a 3-1 win over hosts Croatia, waiting now for a much anticipated clash with Poland to follow on Saturday which is most likely going to determine who is going to finish on top of the standing. Turkey improved their win-loss record to 2-1 after routing the still winless Bulgaria in three straight sets. The eventual winners and runners-up of the single round robin tournament taking place in the Croatian capital will qualify for next year’s World Champs in Egypt – Russia are already qualified for they top the current FIVB ranking in this age group.
Slovenia vs. Poland 0-3 (20-25, 22-25, 18-25)
Poland started this match knowing they were in a favourable position – they had taken two wins from as many matches they had previously contested in the tournament. They claimed an early 4-1 lead before Slovenia fought back helped by their star player Tonček Stern – who scored 13 points in the end. The set was a close race up to 20-19 for Poland but five errors in a row by Slovenia paved the way with gold for their opponents (25-20).
The second set was a copy of the previous one – a close affair but again Poland showed more focus and quality in the deciding moments, thus doubling their lead in the match (25-22). As it had happened on Thursday in their match with Italy, Slovenia collapsed in the final set. Poland cruised to a 16-7 lead and even though Slovenia put on a fight, there was no question about who was going to win in the end. Slovenia made as many as 17 service errors throughout the match – a way too much to stand any chance of upsetting the rock-solid Polish team. Artur Szalpuk (pictured above, #12) eventually top scored for the White-and-Reds with 15 points.
Poland team manager Pawel Pyziak said: “The plan coming here was to qualify for the World Championship. We did not know anything about our opponents, so it was hard to predict at what level they would perform since they did not play any friendly matches before coming to Zagreb. Our match with Italy will in my opinion decide who finishes first in this tournament. They are a good team and show strong attitude even when they play bad, they can always turn the game around and come out victorious in the end.”
Slovenia player Urban Toman commented: “Poland is a very good team, definitely better than us. We did our best and fought from start to end but it was not enough. Tomorrow we have a match with Turkey, so we will have to give our best and try to win that one.”
Bulgaria vs. Turkey 0-3 (16-25, 20-25, 21-25)
Bulgaria were still winless going into this match after losing to Slovenia and Poland in three sets whilst Turkey’s win-loss record stood at 1-1. Turkey claimed an early 8-7 lead at the first technical time-out of the opening set and after the break extended it by scoring a few points in a row. Bulgaria coach Miroslav Zhivkov stopped the game when his guys trailed 8-12 but Turkey continued their flawless performance powered by Yasin Aydin. Bulgaria did never really pose a threat to their opponents and Turkey comfortably claimed the first set 25-16.
The second set followed the same plot with Turkey opening with a 3-0 run and never relinquishing their lead to win this one 25-20. History repeated itself also in the third set where Turkey claimed a small lead right from the start and imposed their quality to finish it all off 25-21 and celebrate their second victory in Zagreb.
Turkey star player Vahit Emre Savas said: “We are satisfied with this performance and our victory. Our goal is to make it through this qualifying round and secure a spot for next year’s World Championship. We took the match with Bulgaria very seriously and stayed focussed all the time, playing very good from a technical and tactical point of view as well. I have to admit that we did not expect such an easy victory over Bulgaria.”
Croatia vs. Italy 1-3 (27-29, 18-25, 25-23, 15-25)
Italy started the matchup with hosts Croatia as the clear-cut favourite and soon imposed their supremacy leading 8-5 at the first technical time-out of the opening set. However, Croatia responded with the help of their star player Petar Dirlić – who eventually finished the match on 18 points. Italy came back strong and Croatia coach Marin Ivanić stopped the game by the score of 19-18. It was a close race where Italy edged ahead 21-19; it was far from being over as the teams engaged in a dramatic battle with Italy eventually coming out on top 29-27. The second set was a way different, with Croatia not able to keep the same pace and Italy cruising to a comfortable and well-deserved 25-18 win.
Croatia, however, fought back and claimed an 8-6 lead in the third set; by the score of 14-12, Croatian star Marko Sedlaček suffered a finger injury and was replaced by Marino Marelic. After an exciting final rush, Croatia eventually had the upper hand winning the set 25-23. The fourth and final set was one-sided with Italy sealing a speedy 25-15 win as Croatia did not seem able to stand the pressure put by their opponents anymore.
Marko Sedlaček, who turned 20 on Friday, said: “On paper Italy are the favourites of this tournament together with Poland. As a result, we took this match very seriously and used their lack of focus to our advantage in the first set. Unfortunately, we had ups and downs throughout the remainder of the match and this happened because most of our players do not have enough experience of playing at this level, whilst the Italians play close and quality matches every weekend in their national league. We also had very little time to prepare for this tournament.”
Andrea Argenta, who top scored for Italy with 21 points, said: “This match with Croatia was very important because we want to finish this tournament on top of the standing. Our opponents played a good match, especially because they wanted to prove their value while playing Italy before their home crowd. Tomorrow we have a difficult and challenging match with Poland and this will be important to determine the final standing of the tournament. We hope to win that one as well.”
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