Plovdiv, Bulgaria, September 7, 2016. Although they were considered somewhat of an underdog six days ago, Ukraine became the first Pool I team to secure their spot in the semifinals of the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship - Men. In the first match of the fifth competition day in Plovdiv, the Ukrainians mastered a 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-19) victory over Germany and left Bulgaria and Poland fighting over the other available place in the semis. After a spectacular battle in the first two sets, Poland paved their way to a 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-20) win to cement themselves undefeated on top of the final pool standings and disappoint the numerous Bulgarian fans on the stands at the Kolodruma. The match between the two teams without any chances to advance in the tournament ended with a first victory for France – 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-22) against Slovenia.
After the first rally was the only time the Germans had the lead in the first set. They stayed in contention through 9-9, after which Ukraine established control. The Volleyball machine dubbed Oleh Plotnytskyi was on fire again and, with great performance in reception, his serving (three aces) and spiking (four points) had the greatest contribution to his team’s 25-22 win.
Ukraine took an early 5-1 lead in the second set, but the Germans quickly caught up to tie the score at 7-7 and even take a one-point advantage immediately after that. At 12-11 the Ukrainians regained control and never let it go. Dmytro Viietskyi was Ukraine’s most prolific player in the set with six successful spikes, while Plotnytskyi “squeezed in” a couple of aces and converted both his attempts in attack to points. Captain Timofii Poluian was the one who hit the ball for the final 25-22.
Coach Mykola Pasazhin’s team broke away to 3-0 at the start of the third set and never looked back. With great organisation of their game and not too much resistance from the opponents, the Ukrainians cruised on to close the match at 25-19 and celebrate as semi-finalists.
Oleh Plotnytskyi was the best scorer of the match with 15 points, followed by teammates Dmytro Viietskyi with 12 and Timofii Poluian with 10, while none of the German scorers reached the double digits in this game.
Heorhii Klepko, player of Ukraine: "We did it! We qualified to the semis. Germany are a very strong team and we beat them. We played very well today. I expect any kind of medal in the end."
Mykola Pasazhin, coach of Ukraine: "We had to deal with the pressure to win 3-0 and we succeeded. We are playing very well at this tournament. I have no preferences as far as our rival in the semi-finals is concerned."
Tobias Krick, player of Germany: “It was a very difficult match. Ukraine are a very good team. We gave everything, but obviously not enough. I hope to finish in fifth place.”
Johan Verstappen, coach of Germany: “We knew that Ukraine would play for qualifying to the semi-finals today, but we tried to confront them. We made a lot of mistakes today. It is not every day that we play at a European Championship and ranking between fifth and eighth place is not a small achievement.”
The first set presented a fierce battle for every point. Inspired by their fantastic fans on the stands, Bulgaria made a four-point run for 7-3, but could not hold on to it for long – 7-7. Another three in a row for 10-7 were quickly cancelled by the Poles for 10-10. With some great actions on both sides of the net, the lead changed hands several times before Jakub Ziobrowski’s hit converted Poland’s first set point to a 25-22 win.
The second set was very similar, only this time Bulgaria managed to erase the five-point advantage, which Poland had at 10-5, to prompt a spectacular follow-up after 11-11. The home team stepped up their blocking efforts, while the Poles excelled from the serving line with five aces in the set. The lead went back and forth before coach Sebastian Pawlik’s squad prevailed once again to win the set by another 25-22. At this point, Poland secured the top of the final pool standings for themselves and booked their spot in the semi-finals.
The two teams already knew their destiny regardless of what happened in the rest of the match. Naturally, the motivation went down, but both Bulgarians and Poles wanted the victory. Ziobrowski continued his great overall performance in the third set and led his team to the eventual 25-20 to close the match.
Jakub Ziobrowski became the best scorer of the game with 15 points for Poland. Bartosz Kwolek came close behind with 14. Radoslav Parapunov was Bulgaria’s top scorer with 13 points.
Plamen Shekerdzhiev, captain of Bulgaria: "We played strong first two sets. Poland are a pretty experienced team. They have trained much longer than us. Two or three mistakes prevented us from winning these sets. The match with Ukraine was our biggest chance and we regret not beating them."
Vladimir Nikolov, coach of Bulgaria: "The team of Poland has probably had a year to develop. They play like men and we play like children, as sad as I am as a coach to make this ascertainment. In the decisive last moments of the sets the Poles did not make mistakes, while we did due to lack of experience. To win this match we had to be perfect, but we were not. I am sorry for losing the game against Ukraine."
Jakub Kochanowski, captain of Poland: "The first two sets of the match were at a very high level. Congratulations to the Bulgarian team because they play very good Volleyball. We made the first step on the way to the medals. The next step is to win our semi-final and qualify for the final."
Sebastian Pawlik, coach of Poland: “It was a very tough match. Bulgaria played very well with good blocking and good spiking. I am satisfied with the way we served. I have no preference as for a semi-final opponent. Regardless of who it is, we have to play for the win.”
With both teams already packed up to leave the tournament, all that was at stake in the match between them was the opportunity to score at least one win before they go home. Slovenia and France played a good and competitive game, but in all three sets it was France that emerged victorious in the end. The Slovenes did better in blocking, reception and attack, but the team that showed more precision in their game and made fewer unforced errors was the one that celebrated with a straight-set 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-22) victory.
Slovenia’s Matic Vrtovec was the best scorer of the match with 18 points. Jure Okroglic added another 12. Thibaut Thoral topped France’s scorers with 11 points.
Samo Miklavc, coach of Slovenia: “We are very disappointed to finish last in the pool. Our goal was to at least make it among the second four. We had a few problems. The physical preparation was one of them. The low average height of our team was another. Generally, we are very satisfied with the organisation here and with the hospitality in the city of Plovdiv.”
Jocelyn Trillon, coach of France: “I am happy that we are going home with a victory. We were very tired today, because we started this tournament with three five-set matches. Still, we managed to win. I would like to point to Ukraine as the pleasant surprise of this competition. They have a very good team that plays very good Volleyball.”
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