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25/07/2017 23:07
Italy and Belarus soar into #EuroVolleyU16W semi-finals
2017 CEV U16 Volleyball European Championship - Women

Sofia/Samokov, Bulgaria, July 25, 2017. Italy and Belarus became the first two teams to reach the last four of the CEV U16 Women’s Volleyball European Championship, qualifying from Pools I and II respectively with victories over the Netherlands and Romania. Belarus usurped Romania at the top of Pool II to progress with this latest victory, with Romania’s hopes now resting on their final group match with Russia. The Netherlands’ hopes are also hanging in the balance, and they will face hosts Bulgaria knowing victory will confirm their place in the semis, whilst defeat would see the host nation progress.

Pool I (Sofia)

Finland vs. Greece 1-3 (18-25, 25-16, 21-25, 25-27)

Niki Aplada and captain Stamatia Kyparissi led the way for Greece, as their 28-joint points haul helped their side to a maiden victory in the tournament. It came with a 3-1 triumph over Finland, who were also without a win going into the game. All four sets were highly competitive thrillers, but the efforts of the game’s leading scorers Jenna Mustonen (23 points) and Linnea Kuusela (18), were not enough to see the Finns to a first victory, as they were edged out in a blockbuster of a fourth set with a chance to send the game to tiebreak slipping through their fingers.

Despite this being the closest the Finns have come to a win, head coach Heikki Kosonen believes it wasn’t their best performance of their campaign thus far, with basic errors proving costly at key times.
“We played well today but I feel maybe the Bulgaria match was our best performance. We made too many hitting errors today, and although we played well, it isn’t enough at this level if we keep making these mistakes. We have to cut them out to play better, be more consistent and play at our level. For all our skills, we didn’t do ourselves justice today, the consistency needed to win these games was missing. The girls are upset about this one, it looks like we may have no chance to get fifth on paper, but we could still have a chance depending on other results. We have just made so many mistakes and lost sets by just two points, if we made fewer errors, we wouldn’t be in this position. Our consistency just isn’t there at this point in time.”

Meanwhile, victorious Greek coach Konstantinos Gkountas was relieved that his side finally earned their first victory, to keep their hopes of progressing from Pool I alive.
“I’m happy for my players. It’s just a shame it has taken this long! I was hoping for more than one win by this point, but we have got that first victory now and I’m happy, and we continue tomorrow. It will be a very tough game against Italy but who knows what may happen! Maybe we’ll bow out, maybe we’ll still be here, but we will give our best, for sure.”

Bulgaria vs. Denmark 3-0 (25-20, 26-24, 25-18)

The impressive Aleksandra Georgieva was once again Bulgaria’s shining star, hitting 19 points in a hotly contested match with Denmark, despite an academic looking 3-0 score-line. Georgieva’s influence helped the hosts deny the visitors a succession of times at set point in the second set, before turning the game on its head and taking it themselves, before coasting to victory in the third.

Bulgaria head coach Stojan Gunchev knew his team had been in a game, but was pleased by how his side is growing game by game.

“We fought hard today”, he said after the match. “We are improving with every game, we are making less unforced errors, and we feel far surer of ourselves on the court. Tomorrow we need to do whatever we can to win against the Netherlands so that we have a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. We can match them, for sure. We do some things better than them, and they are better in other areas than us. We’ll give them a game and do whatever it takes to get the result we need against them.”

Denmark coach Mats Olof Björkman was disappointed that his team let the second set slip, but conceded that his side came up against a superior Bulgarian outfit, before expressing his excitement ahead of their closing Pool I match with Finland.
“We fought very hard and did our best,” he said. “We stood up against a strong physical team in Bulgaria, who played very well. Their spikers are very good, but we served well in response and played as best we could. In the second set, it’s unfortunate that we had a key decision go against us when one of their balls looked out. But we had three other chances to win the set so we cannot blame anybody but ourselves. We made a lot of mistakes and they made fewer. Once we gave them a chance, they were too strong and applied too much pressure. But the girls can take credit from their performance. Tomorrow is a different game, and we look forward to playing Finland. We are two teams who know a lot about each other from many matches, and their coach Heikki (Kosonen) and I played against each other many times, in some great five setters. He’s a very good friend of mine and it’ll be nice to come up against him again tomorrow. I’ll be nice of course, but we are confident and will be going all out for the win!”

Italy vs. Netherlands 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-14)

It was billed as Pool I’s clash of the titans, but Pasquale D’Aniello’s Italy put in a blistering performance to blow away their Dutch opponents, Sara Cortella leading the line with 14 points to help the Azzurrine become the first team from Pool I to reach the last four. The Italians will, therefore, be staying in Sofia, and can take confidence from a result in which they displayed supreme power, precision, and confidence against their strongest opponents in the pool phase.

“I’m really proud of my team,” D’Aniello said of his side after the match. “The Netherlands play really quick Volleyball and have a strong and tall middle blocker, and they often use her as a focal point for their attacks, so we had to be very strong and physical today and show a lot of energy. It was difficult to compete against their block, but we played well in defence. We made every ball we defended into an attack of our own, and that was the key to winning today. I think we also showed a lot of heart in the second set to take back the lead when we were behind, and with good organisation we took it back. Now we will be playing opposition in the semi-finals where the difference in the game will be in the small details. One or two good plays from either side could decide the game. My team have grown so much already since the first game and our mentality is improving every day. We will play our best Volleyball in the matches to come, for sure. There is more to come from us.”

Italy’s Loveth Oghosasere Omoruyi was another smiling face in the Italian camp after the match, and said that she and her teammates could be proud of their team performance, which is bound to breed confidence ahead of their games to come.
“We played very well in attack and defence today, and we always look to go out, do our jobs and do our best. This victory gives us a lot of confidence and hope for the next games, because we beat a very good team today and it was a tough fight for us, regardless the score.”

Netherlands head coach Eelco Beijl, on the other hand, wasn’t quick to say his team need to improve their overall game, but admitted his side showed Italy a little too much respect and must come out of the blocks quicker at the start of matches.
“There are two things I noticed today. We started by showing Italy a little too much respect, and we grew into the game and played our game too late. The last half of the first set up to the start of the third was a great and even match. I congratulate Italy, they played a perfect match and were better than us. We started too late, then ran out of steam and stopped fighting a little near the end. We will take these issues into tomorrow and try to correct them against Bulgaria. It’s a short period of time between the games, but we can correct it by being alert on court from the first serve right to the end. Our level of Volleyball tonight was generally good, we just need to be looking to reach our best level right at the start and then fight for the result.”

Pool II (Samokov)

Russia vs. Belgium 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-13)

The deadly Tatiana Kadochkina scored 18 points including six aces to hand Russia victory in another outstanding performance in Pool II of EuroVolleyU16W. Svetlana Safronova’s side kept their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals very much alive with a resounding 3-0 drubbing of Belgium in Samokov, their third win in four matches.

Elizaveta Apalikova was another star for the Russians, contributing some great serves, captain Tatiana Kadochkina scoring the all-important points with a solid show of spiking to see out a tense first set. They survived a wobble at the start of the second set, but from there, it was open the floodgates for Russia, Kadochkina helping Svetlana Safronova’s side clinch the key rallies and ease to a comfortable victory.

Russian team advisor and former player Ekaterina Gamova praised the performance of her team, but also stressed the importance of following it up by beating the Romanians, a result which will almost certainly be necessary if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

“I’m satisfied with our performance today,” she said. “We play better and better each match and we should continue this way going into our next game when we must take the points against Romania. We must win if we want to achieve our goal and to qualify for the semi-finals in Sofia. We will prepare the best we can and we will be playing for the victory. Yes, Romania are a strong team but our team isn’t so bad either. We’ll be no pushovers.”  

Belgium coach Yorick Vande Velde was pleased with his side’s attitude, but conceded that the presence of the lively Kadochkina made the difference at crucial times for the Russians, despite their efforts to neutralise her.  
“We prepared ourselves very well. They had a really good player in Kadochkina but we had a tactical plan to neutralise her threat, but at times she was just too good for us. Tactically we were prepared but if we compare our team with the others here, I can say that we have girls and they have women. Because at key times when we need power in attack, they have it and we don’t. We must play more tactically and it’s frustrating when you have good serving, good block-defence, only to be undone by a powerful hitter from the opposition. Today we played two good sets. Okay, we made a lot of mistakes in the first but they also made a lot of errors and we couldn’t manage to use this to our advantage. The second set loss was down to problems in our reception. It’s still possible to qualify for Sofia. Tomorrow is a new day, a new match, and a new tactical plan. I hope to win because we still have a chance.”

Belarus vs. Romania 3-2 (11-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 15-8)

In the battle for top spot in Pool II and the first ticket to the semi-finals of EuroVolleyU16W, Belarus defeated Romania 3-2 to overhaul Marius Macarie’s side at the top of the group and progress to the last four with four wins from four. The second match of the day in Samokov became a battle between two inspirational captains - Kseniya Liabiodkina of Belarus and Romania’s Alexia Ioana Carutasu who were the real orchestrators of the two sides, contributing 29 and 27 points respectively.

Alexia Ioana Carutasu was on fire over the opening exchanges, with good spiking, blocking and great work in defence to help her side take the first set. Cue Kseniya Liabiodkina to come alive, and with her spiking she led Belarus back in the game and tied the game with the standout performance of the second set, allowing Darya Borys to level affairs with a wonderful diagonal spike. Carutasu and Denisa Ioana Ionescu then took the reins to win the third set and put Romania back in front, before the pendulum swung back the way of Liabiodkina and Belarus, who dominated the fourth set and held off a stern Romanian fightback to tie the match. Darya Sauchuk then put in a succession of great serves to pull the Belarusians away in the tiebreak set, and it would be her who took some of the weight from her captain’s shoulders by spiking hard down the middle for match point. This latest victory saw them become the first team to qualify for the semi-finals, and head coach Yahor Pimakhin couldn’t contain his excitement.

“It was a great match! Both teams were really well prepared and today on the field we had two very strong teams which wanted to win and to secure their place in the semi-finals,” he said after the game. “It was а difficult, unpredictable game and the result reflects that. In the fourth set we led 22-9, but Romania managed to come back and we eventually won it 25-20. I think the pressure was high, Romania had a great support but my girls managed to win 3-2 and this is great. Today again they showed great character. It is really important for them because matches like this give them the experience which will help them grow into big Volleyball players. This is our main goal of coming here. Tomorrow we have another match in the Pool, so despite qualifying we are not finished here. We have our final match against Turkey and we must prepare well. After that Sofia is waiting for us. Our goal here is the final and we will try to do our best to get there.”

Meanwhile, Romania coach Marius Macarie, who saw his side slip to their first defeat in what has been some adventure in Samokov so far, remained upbeat about his side’s chances and accepted his team finished on the losing side of a classic.
“It was a really tough match for first place in the Pool,” he said. “Both teams wanted to win it and to qualify for the last four, but today Belarus were strong with their serving and deserved the victory. It was difficult for our reception and we lost a brilliant game for the spectators. Now we play Russia tomorrow. It’s our last match here and our last chance to qualify for the semis, so the game is open. We must come back here and give it our all to try and get the result we need.”

Czech Republic vs. Turkey 1-3 (25-23, 18-25, 21-25, 19-25)

Sude Hacimustafaoglu led Turkey to their second victory in Pool II of the EuroVolleyU16W. In the last match of Day 4 in Samokov, the outside hitter contributed 25 points and helped the Turks defeat the Czech Republic by 3-1. It was an even battle in the first set but eventually won by the Czechs, Michaela Brichtova contributed five points in the opening to help them into a lead before Eliska Pokorna’s spike secured the opening set. Despite the perfect start, the Czechs couldn’t press home their advantage and started to make easy mistakes in attack and defence to allow the Turks to level affairs. Sude Hacimustafaoglu led the Turkish attack with key point contributions, whilst Pelin Eroktay swayed the tide the way of Turkey in the third set, Elisa Tuana Köse’s ace putting them in front. The Turkish serve continued tormenting the Czechs in the fourth set, before Hacimustafaoglu did the damage to end the game in favour of Turkey. The victory keeps their qualification hopes alive, but they must win their final game against group leaders Belarus to have any hope.

“At this level, we have ups and downs but it can happen, it’s important how we will react during the match,” Turkey coach Bülent Gunes said after the game”. “Today we lost the first set but we played better and better in the next sets. Everything was good for us after the first set and this is important for our confidence. Sometimes during the games I’m a little bit aggressive and emotional with the girls but after our conversations, they followed my instructions and we started to play better. Now we go again. Tomorrow we will see the results of the first two matches and we will play to earn another victory here in Samokov.”

Czech coach Ales Novak was disappointed not to get a first win on the board, but insisted that he and his team are now looking to the future now that their hopes of qualifying from the pool phase are essentially over.
“We wanted to fight for our place in the next round of the European Championship but we failed. Our desire was to win and to have a chance of progressing, and we managed to play really well in the first set. We have a lot of problems in offence, our spikers didn’t perform and our service was not so effective, especially due to the good reception of the Turkish libero Gülce Gültekin. I want to congratulate them and to wish them good luck in the next round in Sofia. For us we will work really hard to improve our game and to qualify for the U17 European Championship next year.”

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