Plovdiv, Bulgaria, September 8, 2016. They call it “rest day” at the Final Round of the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship - Men, because there are no matches scheduled for Thursday, but it is no rest for those who have to prepare for the decisive matches on Friday and Saturday. The mercury is certainly rising in Plovdiv not only because the southern European summer heat is not loosening its tight grip on this beautiful Bulgarian city, but also because the culmination of #EuroVolleyU20M is fast approaching.
Click here on September 9 and 10 for a live photo gallery from the last two competition days in Plovdiv.
The schedule for Friday’s semi-finals has been set. Four of the twelve teams have left Bulgaria, another four have made the trip from Varna to Plovdiv, where they will take part in the most exciting phase of this competition.
The main focus is, of course, on those matches that will determine the three eventual medallists. In the first semi-final on Friday, at 17:00 local time, Poland and Russia will cross their ways in the race for continental gold.
So far, Poland have lived up to their status of the tournament pre-favourites. They won Pool I unbeaten. Despite surprisingly losing their first two sets in Plovdiv, the Poles quickly found their rhythm and won all their five matches in the pool. This way Poland improved their win-loss record over all phases of the U20 European Championship to 8-0, after having cruised through their three qualification matches in Germany earlier this year without dropping a single set. The main reason Poland are seen as the most likely gold medallists is that this generation of players became U19 European and world champions in 2015. Many of the team’s players have impressed with their performances in Plovdiv, but the one who is a current leader in one of the official statistical individual rankings is Lukasz Kozub, #1 for best setter of the pool stage.
A team playing under the name of Russia should never be underestimated and this is the case with the guys who finished second in Pool II in Varna. To qualify for the finals in Bulgaria, Russia won all three of their qualification matches in Croatia. In Varna they lost only one of their five games and deservedly reached the semis. As an U19 squad, the Russians finished fifth in Europe last year, but after that they became the second best ranked European team at the World Championship, where they finished fourth. The Russian team that travelled to Plovdiv on Thursday features Dmitry Yakovlev, who scored 100 points in Varna and is the current #2 in the rankings for best scorer and for best spiker of the tournament, trailing only to Czech Republic’s Matej Smidl, whose team is no longer in contention. Another Russian, Aleksei Kononov, on the other hand, is #EuroVolleyU20M’s most efficient spiker so far.
After Poland and Russia have determined one of the finalists, the teams of Italy and Ukraine will take their turn in the second semi-final on Friday, starting at 19:30 local time.
Italy came to Varna as silver medallists from the 2015 CEV U19 European Championship in Turkey and fifth-place holders from the U19 World Championship, so it is to no one’s surprise that they went through their Pool II matches undefeated. The Italians qualified for the finals with three 3-0 victories at home this spring and have now extended their winning streak to eight matches overall. Coach Michele Totire’s young players had to show their strong character in two of the matches, coming from behind to beat Russia and Turkey by 3-2 each.
Ukraine are certainly the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the tournament in Bulgaria. This team did not qualify for last year’s U19 continental finals at all. They failed to qualify for this Final Round of #EuroVolleyU20M at their first chance, finishing second in their qualification pool after losing to hosts Slovenia. They finally booked their ticket to Plovdiv after winning one and losing two of their matches in Spain from the last qualification round in July. Naturally, the Ukrainians were considered among the underdogs at this European Championship, but they took advantage of their status to upset some big opponents in Plovdiv and to finish second in Pool I with a 4-1 win-loss record. Their fabulous performance so far is also reflected in some of the individual statistics. Oleh Plotnytskyi (pictured) has already hammered out a total of 22 aces and is by far the Best Server of the pool stage. His teammate Timofii Poluian leads the ranking for best receiver.
Before the start of the semi-finals for the first place, the two classification semi-finals for the fifth place will take place at the Kolodruma in Plovdiv on Friday. They feature four teams that also showed some impressive performances in their pools, but just could not make it among the pool winners or runners-up. With hosts Bulgaria among these teams, these matches are also bound to draw a lot of attention. Germany and Serbia will meet at 12:00 local time, while the home fans are expected to once again create an incredible atmosphere on the stands at 14:30, when Bulgaria start their clash with neighbouring Turkey.
Engage with the U20 European Championship on social media by using the competition’s official hashtag #EuroVolleyU20M.
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