Plovdiv, Bulgaria, September 10, 2016. Poland are the new U20 men’s Volleyball champions of Europe! They lived up to their status of tournament pre-favourites and won the final of the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship - Men at the Kolodruma hall in Europe’s oldest living city, Plovdiv. After a 3-1 (29-27, 25-21, 21-25, 25-12) victory over Ukraine, Poland won the gold medals for a second time in the history of the competition after claiming the title 20 years ago, at Israel 1996. With two silver and two bronze finishes on their record, the Poles now have two complete sets of medals.
Russia claimed the honour of netting the bronze medals from #EuroVolleyU20M. Earlier on Saturday, in the third place match, the Russians mastered a 3-1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-17, 25-18) victory over Italy and deserved their place on the podium.
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Poland vs. Ukraine 3-1 (29-27, 25-21, 21-25, 25-12)
After many changes in the lead during the first half of the first set, Poland managed to break away with a 22-18 advantage. Opposite Jakub Ziobrowski and outside spikers Bartosz Kwolek and Tomasz Fornal were very prolific in attack, but this was not enough for an easy finish. With four points in a row Ukraine tied the score at 22-22 to prompt an exciting ending of the first set. The Poles persevered to emerge with a 29-27 win.
Ukraine won the first two rallies of the second set, but Poland regained control soon after. The Polish blocking started contributing more points to the team’s tally and all the opponents could do is play catch-up. Ukraine did manage to tie the score on several occasions, but in the money time at the end of the set it was all Poland – 25-21.
In the beginning of the third set coach Mykola Pasazhyn’s team made a clear statement that they had no intention to give up. Although their strongest weapon, the serve, was still not producing the usual fantastic results, the Ukrainians stepped up their attack, led by their captain Timofii Poluian. They put the most pressure on their opponents when it mattered, at the end of the set, and they won it by 25-21 to stay in contention.
But this was only to enrage the beast on the other side of the net. Poland came back for the fourth set in full force and made sure Ukraine were left with no chance for another feat. Inspired by their captain Jakub Kochanowski’s fabulous performance, the Poles tallied five kill blocks and four aces on top of their great spiking efforts to help themselves to a 25-12 victory. Kochanowski himself put a fantastic end to this European Championship with a cannon ball from the serving line for the final point.
Poland’s opposite Jakub Ziobrowski was the best scorer of the match with 21 points, followed by teammates Bartosz Kwolek with 19, Jakub Kochanowski with 18 and Tomasz Fornal with 12. Also with 12 points each were Ukraine’s most prolific players Oleh Plotnytskyi and Timofii Poluian.
Jakub Kochanowski, captain of Poland: "We are very happy. It was a hard match because Ukraine served well. In the last set we really showed who the best team is. We wanted the victory and the gold medals and nothing else. The tournament was very good. We also have to win the World Championship next year. We did not expect that teams like Ukraine and Bulgaria could play so well, but it was not well enough to beat us."
Sebastian Pawlik, coach of Poland: "I am glad. It was a very good tournament. We played our game. We did not start very well, but really improved with each match. It is our first gold medal since 1996. Congratulations to the boys!"
Heorhii Klepko, player of Ukraine: "We lost, because we were tired. Second place is not bad. It is a success."
Mykola Pasazhin, coach of Ukraine: "Right now I have only positive, remarkable thoughts. About the game - we played well in the first three sets, but not in the last. Our attack was not working well enough and it was obvious to everybody. This is a historic medal for Ukrainian Volleyball. I do not think we have ever had such a result. I hope Ukraine and the Ukrainian Volleyball family will appreciate it."
Taking advantage of the many errors on Italy’s side, Russia were in the lead through most of the first set. With Ivan Piskarev leading the attack, Russia’s advantage went as wide as four points. Playing well in both offence and blocking, Italy came back to tie it at 18-18. At 22-21 they were already a step ahead. Finally, Roberto Cominetti spiked past the Russian block to close the set at 25-23 Italy’s way.
With Aleksei Kononov in the middle and Anton Semyshev outside on fire, Russia stepped up their attack in the second set and regained control on the court. This time Italy could not find their way back and the Russians moved forward to a comfortable 25-21 win.
The Russian team found a way to even further improve their spiking in the third set. Setter Konstantin Abaev created good variety in attack and once again he produced the best results with Aleksei Kononov in the middle. The set was completely one-sided and the Russians cruised on to a 25-17 win.
Italy managed to take an early 5-2 lead in the fourth set, but could not hold on to it for long. It was time for the Russian blocking to shine. With the help of six kill blocks, coach Mikhail Nikolaev’s squad opened another wide gap in the score. Opposite Dmitry Yakovlev, who had been benched for a while, came back into play and in the end closed the match at 25-18 with a powerful spike.
Russia's Ivan Piskarev with 20 points, Aleksei Kononov with 16 and Anton Semyshev with 13 were the best scorers of the match. Paolo Zonca and Gianluca Galassi shared the honours on the Italian side with 12 points each.
Dmitry Yakovlev, player of Russia: “This was a very, very, very good match for us. We won by 3-1 even after the first set when we made too many unforced errors. I am really happy with this bronze medal. We played against Italy in the pool stage. We had two match points and we just needed to spike one ball, but we missed and after that we lost, so today we took our revenge.”
Ivan Piskarev, player of Russia: “It is not bad to finish the championship with a bronze medal. Last year in Kocaeli and Sakarya we were fifth and now we are third. This is a great result for us and I am happy. We just did not want to repeat the match in the pool stage and we were absolutely concentrated. We wanted this victory, this medal, and we achieved it.”
Riccardo Sbertoli, player of Italy: “The match for the bronze medal is very strange and difficult. The team which managed to forget and to regroup after the semifinals won. They were better than us, but we played badly as well. After all, I can say that this was a very good competition for us. This is a good experience for us, because all these matches teach you and help you to get better and better. At this championship we learned something really important – when you think you are better than some other team like Ukraine, many things may not happen the way you want and you may end up losing the match.”
Michele Totire, coach of Italy: “Yesterday we had a tough match and it was difficult for us today. I am proud of my team because I think that we came here and showed good Volleyball. It was only in the five matches in Varna. Yesterday in some moments of the match we also played well. Today it was difficult. I tried to find the right solutions, made many substitutions during the match, but to play after a semi-final like ours yesterday is hard. It is hard for me, so you can imagine how difficult it is for players who are under 20 years old. But this is experience for the future. Yesterday I said this to the guys. It is important to win, but this match is very important for the future too.”
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