Poland claim ‘big match’ with Italy, both teams secure ticket to #FIVBMensU23
2017 FIVB U23 Men's Volleyball World Championships - European Qualification
Zagreb, Croatia, July 30, 2016. On Saturday afternoon Poland and Italy played some kind of ‘grand finale’ at the European qualifier for next year’s FIVB Men’s U23 World Championship in Zagreb; with both teams boasting an impeccable record of three wins in as many matches, this clash was most likely to determine the side that would finish the tournament on top of the standing – and so it was. Italy put on a real fight and came back twice from one set down but Poland eventually emerged victorious at the tie-break. As a result, Poland and Italy have already secured their participation in next year’s World Championship in Egypt, even with one round of matches still to be played on Sunday. Russia are already qualified for they top the current FIVB ranking in this age group. Earlier on Saturday afternoon, after suffering two consecutive setbacks, Slovenia regrouped to pull out a 3-1 victory in their matchup with Turkey to open the programme of the next-to-last competition day. The matchup between the still winless Croatia and Bulgaria completed the schedule on Saturday with Bulgaria – still performing without their injured captain Velizar Chernokozhev – recording a 3-1 victory.
Turkey vs. Slovenia 1-3 (25-21, 19-25, 22-25, 17-25)
Turkey entered this match with a win-loss record standing at 2-1, enough for third place in the provision standing. Slovenia, on the other hand, had lost to Poland and Italy after starting their campaign with a victory over Bulgaria.
Turkey caught a promising start but Slovenia edged ahead at 16-15. Their middle blockers did especially a good job, not letting Turkey score any easy points. However, Turkey did not seem willing to surrender and fought for every ball, with their outstanding captain Yigit Gülmezoglu leading the way – he scored 21 points in the end. Turkey scored four in a row to make it 22-18 in their favour and this paved the way for their fairly comfortable 25-21 set win.
Turkey were off to a flying start also in the second set but after that they started making unforced errors. Slovenia claimed an 8-5 lead at the first technical time-out and with David Kumer scoring seven points of his own in this set, Slovenia cruised to a compelling 25-19 win. Turkey seemed to be in a very good position to win the third set after Slovenia’s focus dropped halfway through. Turkey, however, relaxed a way too early and Slovenia closed in at 20-all. After that, it was a close race before two consecutive Turkish errors sealed a 25-22 win for Slovenia.
Slovenia set the tempo of the game right from the outset of the fourth set and Tonček Stern served five times in a row to move the score from 5:4 to 11:5 in favour of his team. Slovenia did never lose control of the match and cruised to a 3-1 victory. Stern top scored in the end with 22 points.
Slovenia coach Iztok Ksela said: “We started playing a lot better in the second set, after our starting setter Urban Drvarič joined the game – coming back from injury. Turkey is a good team, but the comeback of our captain and first setter were a crucial moment. We played good in all aspects of the game, tried different combinations in attack and all these factors combined together propelled us to this victory.”
Italy vs. Poland 2-3 (19-25, 28-26, 15-25, 25-22, 12-15)
The match between Italy and Poland was highly anticipated because everyone knew this was most likely to determine the eventual winners of the tournament.
Italy and Poland had both swept three matches in a row and Poland had been especially dominant since the White-and-Reds had not dropped any set along the way. The start of the match immediately delivered a close race with both teams playing at a very high level. Poland claimed a two-point lead at the second technical time-out with Italy’s reception lacking consistency and the ‘Azzurrini’ making some service mistakes. The Italians evidently lost focus and ended up conceding the set 19-25 to Poland.
This did not happen in the final stages of the second set; after the score was levelled at 20-all, Italy and Poland played point for point, with the ‘Azzurrini’ eventually emerging victorious at 28-26.
However, this effort drained much energy and concentration from the young Italians and after a solid start to the third set, their reception faltered and their middle blockers became less and less effective in their attempts to stop the Polish spikers. Poland dominated the game and cruised to a massive 25-15 win propelled by their star players Aleksander Sliwka and Kamil Semeniuk.
However, it was a way too early to rule Italy out, especially as they needed to take one point from this match to secure their participation in next year’s World Championship. Italy trailed 2-4 in the fourth set but scored six points in a row with Marco Pierotti standing behind the service line. Italy were able to hold on to their early advantage and claimed the fourth set 25-22.
The tie-break was the logical conclusion of this close affair. Italy coach Michele Totire stopped the game at 1-4 and it paid dividends, with the ‘Azzurrini’ levelling the score at 7-all. However, after the side switch, Poland was more effective than the Italians and cashed their fourth straight win in the tournament.
Once again Poland team captain Sliwka top scored for his side with 18 points, with Semeniuk contributing another 17 for the White-and-Reds. Giacomo Raffaelli paced Italy with 13 followed by Marco Vitelli and Andrea Argenta with 12 and 11, respectively.
Italy player Alberto Polo commented: “We played a good match. Poland is a very good team and the match was a tough one. We will now rest and prepare for tomorrow’s match with Bulgaria.”
Poland coach Wojciech Serafin: “Our goal coming here was to qualify for the World Championship but we decided we would take it one match at a time. This has been a tough tournament, and even the matches we won 3-0 were challenging ones. I am very proud of my team.”
Croatia vs. Bulgaria 1-3 (17-25, 25-20, 17-25, 21-25)
After delivering a good performance in Friday’s matchup with Italy, hosts Croatia did not catch a good start to their game with Bulgaria. The quality of their reception was very low and as a result it was difficult for the home team to score. Bulgaria, on the other hand, used every chance they got to counter-attack, thereby extending their lead more and more until they finished the first set 25-17.
After suffering such setback, Croatia regrouped and started playing a way better, showing a lot of commitment and fighting spirit. Their young star player Petar Dirlić and team captain Filip Šestan – who eventually recorded 19 and 11 points respectively – were able to score with consistency even though Croatia’s reception was far from being optimal and this way the hosts levelled the count in the match.
However, Croatia continued to go through ups and downs – and the start of the third set was not that promising. Apart from Dirlić, there was no other player that was taking responsibility and could lead the way for the home team. Bulgaria, on the other hand, remained focussed through to the end and resisted a late comeback by the Croatian players which came after their coach Marin Ivanić decided to use his second setter Petar Višić. It was too late to change the course of the set with Bulgaria securing it with the help of Martin Atanasov – who at the end of the match amassed as many as 20 points.
The fourth and eventually last set did not bring the desired comeback for the home side with Bulgaria leading from start to end to cash their first victory in the tournament.
Croatia player Marino Marelić said: “This was our fourth match in four days and we start feeling tired. Our concentration just fell apart at some point and Bulgaria used their chances in such moments, widening their lead more and more, and this is something we could no longer make up for.”
Click here for more info including detailed stats of the matches