Nitra, Slovakia, August 31, 2016. One day before the last pool matches of the 2016 CEV U19 Volleyball European Championship – Women will be held, the French Team celebrated their first victory to send the winless team of Croatia home, while an emotional Belgium is now one step away from achieving the semis after a thrilling victory over host Slovakia. The last act featured Turkey and Bulgaria which delivered a roller coaster and the semi-finals ticket for the Turkish team after five exciting sets.
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France vs. Croatia 3-0 (25-14, 25-23, 25-18)
It was the game between the only teams that were still waiting for the first victory at #EuroVolleyU19W in Nitra. France had a great start to the match and led the score 8-4 at the first technical time-out. The difference was the reception which was much better on the French side and allowed them to produce powerful attacks via their outside-spikers Clara Martin and Lisa Jeanpierre. Middle blocker Katia Tetuanui made the result even better as her service scored an ace to move the score to 10-4 and forced the Croatian coach Marija Anzulovic to take a time-out. It didn’t work, while the team of Philippe-Marie Salvan went up to a huge advantage of 9 points at 19-10 and could celebrate the first set win at 25-14, with middle blocker Amandha Marine Sylves who made the final point with a monster block.
The well working block-defence system of France continued to perform in the same way at the start of the second set. They almost touched every attack of Croatia and found a response to avoid the tall Croatian middle blockers with fast spikes. Additionally, a great service destroyed the Croatian defence time and again to improve the result to 15-8 for the Bleues. But it seemed that this was a signal for the Croatian girls who finally started to play. A better attack and defence opened the roller coaster which the fans would see in the following time. Valentina Duspara, outside-spiker of Croatia, closed the gap with two aces in a row to 23-all. As every spectator in the venue thought that this could be the game changer, France scored two points in a row and profited from Croatian faults in defence and attack to finish the second set in their favour at 25-23.
The comeback in the second set wasn’t enough motivation for Croatia to start a miracle. Too many faults in attack (4 to 10) and a French block (11 blocks in the match) in a great mood moved the score from 16-11 to 24-17 as Amandha Marine Sylves scored the last point at 25-18 to send Croatia home.
Philippe-Marie Salvan, France coach: “We changed nothing for today but we all knew that if we wanted to have a chance to go to the final eight we had to win 3-0 tonight. Most teams think for France and Croatia it’s all over but now we have a chance tomorrow and it will be a final for us. I think Croatia helped us because they made a lot of mistakes at the beginning in service and attack and it gave us some easy points.”
Marija Anzulovic, Croatia coach: “The European Championship is a good school for my players. Unfortunately they have to learn it the hard way. I don’t know why we had so many problems in this match today. Of course, France made it very good and had a strong service but my players were not on the court. I have spoken with all of them during the rest day so that they understand how important it will be to beat France. Maybe it was too much pressure but these experiences can be also good for the future of this team.”
Slovakia vs. Belgium 2-3 (25-23, 18-25, 21-25, 25-21, 10-15)
Both teams had the match plan to serve the ball to the opponent’s best scorers of the tournament, Karolina Fricova (SVK) and Manon Stragier (BEL), in order to trouble their offensive play. It was a great fight, with many great rallies and two teams performing at the same level until the end. Eva Kosekova, coach of the Slovakian team, took a time-out after Belgium levelled the score with a nice block at 20-20. The crunch time became an exciting one as the Slovakian outside-spiker Zuzana Sepelova gained the lead due to a reception fault of the “Yellow Tigers” at 23-22. However, two Belgian faults in a row decided the first set and brought out the 1-0 for the home side.
Belgium coach Fien Callens found the right words during the break and could enjoy a great performance of her team in the second set. They absolutely dominated the hosts with a great serve and faultless attack to set the pace with an advantage of seven points in the end (25-18).
Slovakia caught a superb start to the third set with a great level of efficiency in attack to lead 7-2 and 8-5 before the first technical time-out. The course of the game totally changed as Belgium produced a clean run, scoring five points in a row from 13-12 to 18-12. Three service winners by middle blocker Silke Van Avermaet, a block by captain Charlotte Coppin and smart lob-attack by outside-spiker Laure Flament dropped the fortune to the Belgian side which already used their first set ball at the score of 24-21. An unstoppable outside spiker Manon Stragier, who scored 16 points by the end of the match, converted the chance through her opponent's block to 25-21.
It was an up and down in the fourth set again. The lead changed several times, and Slovakia Karin Sunderlikova took the responsibility to lead her girls to a 25-21 set win, thus contributing to a five-set thriller in Nitra.
A déjà vu came over all participants in the tie-break set. Slovakia took a quick lead of three points (4-1) and was on the way to securing a third consecutive win. But never underestimate the fighting spirit of Fien Callens’ girls who fought bravely back and restored the balance at 7-7. Despite the great effort of the hosts, two service-winners in a row to move the score from 12-10 to 14-10 ended the Slovakian winning dreams; Belgium´s Manon Stragier finished it all off with a spike (15-10) and placed the “Tigers” one step away from achieving the semis. Best scorer of the game was Slovakia middle blocker Karin Sunderlikova with 19 points.
Fien Callens, Belgium coach: “It was exhausting because we knew to win today it would be about block and defence. We had to serve well and then we could manage our blocks well. We had 12 and they only had four. I’m glad as a coach but sometimes we missed the concentration to get certain balls. Some points we made it difficult by ourselves. I’m glad my players kept on fighting. Tonight we will do some calculations to see how far we can go. For some girls it was the first time they played on the court and so they had to get used to it. You can see the difference between the experienced ones and ones who still have to learn. It’s important everybody is playing when they are young.”
Manon Stragier, player of Belgium: “It was really stressful for us and all the supporters watching. We fought for every ball and point. When I’m on the court I block out the noise from the crowd and I’m concentrating on the ball and our team. I don’t think we thought before we would do this well, so it’s good.”
Eva Kosekova, Slovakia coach: “We knew that Belgium is a very good team. We are sad that we lost the game but it was against a strong opponent. There is still the chance to reach the semis and we will definitely play here for a place among the best eight. We made too many unforced errors that cost us the victory today.”
Lucia Sedlackova, Slovakia captain: “Everyone could see that both teams wanted to win the game. It was a very close fight but Belgium had a small advantage due to our errors in attack and with our serve.”
Turkey vs. Bulgaria 3-2 (23-25, 25-13, 25-21, 25-18, 15-10)
Turkey confirmed its number one status in Pool I by signing a hard-earned tie-break victory against Bulgaria in the last match of the day. It was an absolute roller coaster which delivered totally different sets where Bulgaria or Turkey had no problems to defend their early lead until the end. Especially the service was a risky part of both teams' play and decided every set. Even if it looked like that favourite Turkey could stabilise their performance, there were still too many easy errors in attack to go for a victory in four sets. The tie-break was decided by some great blocking action of the Turkish team. They went up to 12-7 and had no more problems to celebrate their fourth win; an attack error by Bulgaria booked the Turkish semi ticket at 15-10 and finished a long day in Nitra. Turkey Tutku Burcu Yüzgenc was the shining star of the game, scoring 27 points for her team. Monika Krasteva was the most successful scorer of Bulgaria with 19.
Onur Carikci, Turkey coach: "Today we started with very good energy but we had a problem with our reception. We started to improve and now I am happy because we have taken first position in the group. We will recover now and look forward to the last match.”
Dimo Tonev, Bulgaria coach: “It was a much better match than against Belgium before the rest day. I am proud that my players have shown this reaction, the stronger service of Turkey made the difference in the end. We have still the chance to qualify for the semis and want to finish the group with a victory tomorrow. ”