Poland finish World Champs qualifier with clean record and five straight wins
2017 FIVB U23 Men's Volleyball World Championships - European Qualification
Zagreb, Croatia, July 31, 2016. There was not much at stake on the final day of the European qualifier for next year’s FIVB Men’s U23 World Championship in Zagreb since Poland and Italy had claimed already on Saturday the two tickets at stake to travel to the major competition that will be taking place in Egypt in 2017. And yet Poland remained focussed enough to record their fifth straight win in as many matches after going through ups and downs in their final matchup with Turkey (3-2). Italy finished the tournament on a high note as well routing Bulgaria in three straight sets. Slovenia and Croatia capped the programme of the competition in Zagreb with an always fascinating ‘derby’ where their respective pride was at stake and Slovenia eventually came out victorious (3-0) to celebrate their third win in the tournament and settle for third place in the final standing.
Poland vs. Turkey 3-2 (25-14, 21-25, 25-20, 22-25, 15-12)
After securing their qualification to next year’s World Championship with their tie-break victory over Italy on Saturday, Poland played this match absolutely relaxed. Their coach Wojciech Serafin used only two players of his usual starting six but this did not have any impact, with Poland claiming an early lead and dominating the first set. Artur Szalpuk, one of Poland’s rising Volleyball stars, scored as many as seven points in this set.
The course of the match changed in the second set with Turkey putting more pressure and playing a lot more solid to force more errors from the Polish side of the net. Turkey edged ahead after the first technical time-out and making almost no mistakes at all, they deservedly won the second set.
Szalpuk returned to Poland’s starting six in the third set and his contribution changed again the way the game unfolded. Poland claimed a 16-11 lead at the second technical time-out and Turkey did not find any way to respond, perhaps because of a lack of motivation. Poland cashed a 25-21 win to lead 2-1 in the match. The White-and-Reds set the tempo of the match also in the fourth frame leading by one or two points most of the time but Turkey reversed this trend after the second technical time-out and eventually extended the match to the tie-break.
Serafin made some changes to his starting six for the fifth set and after a shaky opening, Poland eventually sealed their fifth straight win in Zagreb – propelled also by four consecutive errors made by the Turks.
Poland team captain Aleksander Sliwka commented: “We are satisfied with this victory. We did not play at our usual level but this was the fifth match in as many days and we start feeling tired. However, we also wanted to play a bit more relaxed with Turkey. We can go home with a bright smile on our faces.”
Bulgaria vs. Italy 0-3 (23-25, 14-25, 21-25)
Italy shared Poland’s situation entering their final match in the tournament – on Saturday they had already secured their progression to next year’s World Championship after taking one point from their clash with the White-and-Reds.
As a result, the ‘Azzurrini’ could play pretty relaxed, but they did lead from start to end of the opening set, even though they made more unforced errors than Bulgaria. Sebastiano Milan used the opportunity to play as one of Italy’s starters in the best way, contributing six points in the first set of the matchup with a very inconsistent Bulgarian team.
Bulgaria did almost ‘disappear’ from the court in the second set with their attack being extremely ineffective and as a result Italy cruised to a compelling 25-14 win.
After that, as they had nothing more to lose, Bulgaria eventually started playing better, especially in attack and with their block. Setter Vladimir Stankov used all of the players on court to score time and again but towards the end of the set Italy won the deciding points to finish their campaign in Zagreb with a 3-0 win – and with Sebastiano Milan top scoring with 15 markers.
Italy coach Michele Totire said: “I am happy because we won four matches out of the five we contested in this tournament and we dropped only five sets along the way. We came here to qualify for the World Championship and we eventually achieved our goal. I am especially happy for my players, the members of the coaching staff and our Federation – because you know we are one of the world’s top Volleyball countries and we lived up to this status. My players have to play more matches of this standard before next year’s World Championship because some of them do not perform as starters in their respective clubs.”
Slovenia vs. Croatia 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-23)
Slovenia and Croatia were the ones due to play the last match on schedule at the end of a busy week in Zagreb. Slovenia set the pace of the game right from the beginning of the first set, claiming an 8-5 lead at the first technical time-out. This kind of set the tone of what was going to follow, with Slovenia remaining focussed all the way through to the end. Even Croatia star player Petar Dirlić – who eventually scored 12 points – could not do much to withstand Slovenia’s supremacy and the visitors – after leading 16-12 at the second technical time-out – cruised to a compelling 25-15 set win.
Croatia made a number of mistakes in the early stages of the second set, this resulting in an 8-6 early lead for Slovenia. Though they tried their best to close in, Croatia did never really pose a threat to their opponent and Slovenia won the second set at a canter (25-18) as well.
It looked like history would repeat itself in the third set until Slovenia took their first time-out at 13-11. This paid dividends as Slovenia regained control of the match until the score was levelled at 23-all, with Croatia finally posing a threat to the visitors. However, two consecutive mistakes by the home team finished the set and the match at 25-23.
Croatia team captain Filip Šestan who top scored for the home side with 13 points said: “This tournament featured a number of strong and highly-competitive teams, so we expected tough matches and this is why we always played for all or nothing. Yesterday with Italy we played better than we did tonight with Slovenia. We felt a little tired, both physically and psychologically, and that is perhaps why we did not perform our best tonight. I would like to congratulate Slovenia on their victory.”
Slovenia star player Tonček Stern who scored 13 times against Croatia said: “I expected Croatia to play better than they eventually did. We know them pretty well because we had the opportunity to prepare for this tournament working together in Maribor. We started this match as the favourites and we were able to live up to this role. I would like to thank all the fans who have passed by and have been cheering us from the stands for the last few days.”
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