Plovdiv, Bulgaria, September 9, 2016. Ukraine will get a chance for a rematch against Poland in Saturday’s final match of the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship - Men. In what will probably remain in history as the day Oleh Plotnytskyi rose to stardom, Ukraine won their thrilling five-set semifinal against Italy by 3-2 (25-12, 24-26, 15-25, 26-24, 15-13) and continued their Cinderella story at #EuroVolleyU20M. Poland were the first team that secured a spot in the gold medal match. The reigning U19 European and world champions from 2015 showed their class again with a 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 19-25, 25-22) victory over Russia in the first semifinal on Friday.
Click here for a live photo gallery from the last two competition days in Plovdiv.
In the first set, Russia had the upper hand only for a period of time between the two technical time-outs. Before that and after that, with opposite Jakub Ziobrowski spearheading his team’s offensive line, Poland were the dominant power on the court and, despite failing to convert their first three set points, on the fourth one they closed it off at 25-23.
The Russians were able to get in the lead only momentarily in the second set, at 9-8. Setting the example with some fantastic serving and flawless spiking, Poland’s captain Jakub Kochanowski led his teammates towards the eventual 25-20 at the end of the set.
There were many changes in the lead during the third set, but after 17-17 Russia broke away with five consecutive points and never looked back. With three aces from Anton Semyshev and prolific spiking from Dmitry Yakovlev, who managed to squeeze the ball between the blockers’ hands for the last point, the set went Russia’s way – 25-19.
What gave Poland the edge in the fourth set was the offence. With all other point metrics balanced out between the two teams, it was the three more attacking points that accounted for the three-point difference at the end of the set. Coincidentally, the only time Russia were in the lead was at 9-8, just like in the second set. And just like in the second set, it was captain Kochanowski whose actions on the court inspired his teammates to hammer out a 25-22 win.
Russia’s Anton Semyshev was the best scorer of the match. To the total of five aces, he added 12 successful spikes and one kill block and topped the charts with 18 points, followed by Poland’s Bartosz Kwolek with 17.
Jakub Kochanowski, captain of Poland: “This was the hardest match for us since 2015. Tomorrow we will try to win against our opponent in the final. I think it will be Italy, because they are better than Ukraine.”
Sebastian Pawlik, coach of Poland: “It was not an easy game, but we tried to stay concentrated and thanks to that we won this battle. We are one step closer to our dream of becoming the champions.”
Aleksei Chanchikov, libero of Russia: “We made some mistakes in the end. Yes, we played really well in the third set, but in the last rallies of the fourth we did not manage to use our chances. We want to finish this championship with a win and a medal, so we will try to do our best tomorrow.”
Mikhail Nikolaev, coach of Russia: “It was a tough match, but maybe the fact that we arrived in Plovdiv yesterday and had a training too late in the afternoon made the difference today, because we were a little bit tired. But in the end we did not show a winning spirit. Tomorrow we will play to win the bronze medal.”
Italy vs. Ukraine 2-3 (12-25, 26-24, 25-15, 24-26, 13-15)
There were very few glitches in the Ukrainian Volleyball machine, which mercilessly crushed the opponents in the first set. Putting on another spectacular ace show at the Kolodruma, coach Mykola Pasazhin’s players all chipped in with a great overall performance. Dmytro Viietskyi scored three times from the serving line, including an elegant short ball for the last point – 25-12.
The momentum brought Ukraine to an early 5-1 lead (three aces) in the second set, but this was the time the Italians finally woke up. They tied it at 5-5 and later even maintained a three-point advantage for a while, with Paolo Zonca at 100% in offence and Ukraine committing too many unforced errors. Towards the end, the Ukrainians caught up to prompt an interesting ending, but the Azzurrini did not let them flip the score again and took the set by 26-24.
The third set was one-sided. The Italians used the psychological advantage from the end of the previous set, stepped up their blocking efforts and ran off with a huge lead. Led by Giulio Pinali with eight points, they cruised to a 25-15 win.
Ukraine were in control through most of the fourth set, but shortly before the end the more experienced Italian team showed their class to step ahead to a 22-20 advantage. A successful hit by Oleh Plotnytskyi sent him to the serving line. With two aces out of four serves, he gave his team a 24-22 lead. Italy saved both set points, but on the next one Andrii Rohozhyn aced for 26-24 to end the set.
After 6-6 in the tie-breaker, Italy managed to break away with a 10-6 lead. At 13-8 Italy’s way, the outcome already seemed to have been decided. Not in Oleh Plotnytskyi’s mind! After a blasting hit from Dmytro Viietskyi, it was Plotnytskyi’s turn to serve. He had already scored five of Ukraine’s nine points in this set, but his moment was yet to come. He bombarded the Italian half of the court with six consecutive serves that were almost impossible for the opponents to handle and even the two time-outs that coach Michele Totire took could not stop him. Ukraine closed the set at 15-13 and won the match by 3-2 deserving the applause from everyone at the Kolodruma.
Oleh Plotnytskyi scored eight of Ukraine’s 18 aces in this match. His overall tally of 25 points placed him on top of the best scorers’ chart of the game. His teammate Timofii Poluian added another 15 points, while Paolo Zonca was Italy’s most prolific player with 14.
Riccardo Sbertoli, player of Italy: “I don’t know what to say. It was a very strange match. We started very badly, but after that we managed to improve our performance and to play much better. We had the match in our hands but in the tie-break I think that their server was unstoppable and he made something wonderful for his team. Congratulations to him and to Ukraine! Tomorrow we will try to win the final for the third place. Except for this match today, it has been a really good competition for us and it is important to finish it with a victory.”
Francesco Zoppellari, player of Italy: “I have never seen a match like this. It was incredible, incredible! I cannot find the words to describe this situation. Unbelievable! We tried everything, but the Ukrainian serving won the match. Tomorrow we have another match and we must win this bronze medal, because we worked really hard this summer to prepare for this competition and it is really important for us.”
Oleh Plotnytskyi, player of Ukraine: “I am very happy that we managed to qualify for the final. I was not the only reason we are in this final. The whole team played great. Poland are a very strong team, but we will fight and we will see what happens tomorrow.”
Mykola Pasazhin, coach of Ukraine: “In the first set everything went the way we planned. After that we started making mistakes in serving, reception and attack, so we lost concentration and helped the Italians get their act together. They started playing with more confidence, but I am thankful to my players that they managed to snap out of it. We found the strength to regain control. Of course, there aren’t any miracles in Volleyball, but it turns out there are... This victory was a team job, but of course Oleh Plotnytskyi proved that he is the best server at this championship.”
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