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07/05/2013 22:40
Serbia and Spain off to flying start in Ivanjica
2013 FIVB Volleyball Men's U21 World Championship - European Qualification

Ivanjica, Serbia, May 7, 2013. In what is seen as the toughest of the four groups whereby teams are trying to qualify for the 2013 FIVB Volleyball Men’s U21 World Championship, the hosts of Serbia and their much anticipated rivals from Spain got off to a flying start in the city of Ivanjica by edging Slovakia (25-20, 25-19, and 27-25) and the Czech Republic (25-17, 25-18, and 25-15) in three straight sets. In the other match of the day, Finland fought back from 1:2 in sets to eventually edge Croatia at the tie-break (30-28, 18-25, 13-25, 25-15, and 15-11).    

Click here for more info, including detailed stats of the matches  

In the first match of the day Spain, silver medalist from the 2012 European Championship, easily edged the Czech Republic in three straight sets (25-17, 25-18, and 25-15) with Andres J. Villena and Juan Manuel Gonzalez top scoring as they registered 13 points apiece. This is an important result for the side mentored by Ricardo Maldonado that got three valuable points for the standing of the group. Czech opposite Michal Finger was the top scorer in this game with 18 points.  
The Czechs started out bravely as they tried to put some pressure on Spain’s defense line but the silver medalists from last year’s European Championship got back on track after the first technical time-out and never looked back. The plot did not change in the second set with the Czech Republic catching a brilliant start and going up by three and two points respectively at the first and second technical time-out. However, Spain flipped the charts around at 18:17 and eventually the Czechs could score only two more points as their opponents cruised to the provisional 2:0 (25-18). Spain’s superstar Andres J. Villena paced his side in the third set showing some great combinations at the net while the Czech Republic looked no longer capable of fighting its way back into the game. Spain finished it off at 25-15 for a straight-set win.
“We had some ups and downs in this match and have to play with more consistency in the next games” Spain’s head coach Ricardo Maldonado said after this win.
“Since this was the first match of the tournament we were a little nervous in the early phases of the game. We knew that the Czech Republic has got some good players that can make the difference with their block and attack but we managed to find the right pace and bring it home with three points on our side” Spain’s team captain Andres J. Villena added.
“Our setters are inexperienced and Spain is a tough opponent. We tried to put up a good fight but they are out of our reach” Czech head coach Petr Juda stressed. “We tried to be aggressive but we could not succeed in achieving our goal. Spain was the better team today” Czech top scorer Michal Finger concluded.  

Finland followed up later in the afternoon by claiming a 3:2 win (30-28, 18-25, 13-25, 25-15, and 15-11) in their opening match with Croatia. Leo Andrić paced Croatia in their losing effort with 29 points, including 4 blocks, while Marko Sedlacek added 18 – with 5 blocks – to Croatia’s count. On the other side of the net Tommi Siirilä and Elviss Krastins were the most prolific scorers for Finland with 19 and 18 points respectively. The game was attended by Serbia’s Secretary for Sports, Mr. Predrag Perunicic, and by Zoran Todorovic, the Lord Mayor of Arilje, i.e. the city that is hosting the competition.
Croatia dictated the pace of the game for most of the first set before Finland eventually went to the front by claiming its first set ball by the score of 25:24. Croatia did not give in and a neck-to-neck race unfolded until Finland shaped up the final 30-28 for the provisional 1:0 in sets.
Croatia stepped up the quality of their game right from the start of the second set imposing their rhythm and never looking back for a 25-18 that was followed by an even more impressive 25-13 in set 3. The score remained very close in the fourth set though Finland enjoyed a very slim margin. The Finns broke away by the second technical time-out (16:11) and with Croatia able to score only four more points, they could call for the tie-break (25-15). Finland was the dominant side there as well bringing it home at 15-11 thereby pocketing two points while Croatia got one for that 2:3 defeat.  
“We had a lot of problems with our timing in offense. Our setter did not connect well with our attackers while Croatia played really good today” Finland’s mentor Pekka Lahtinen said. “We had to use many of our second lines in this match as we were looking for the right line-up. In the end we were able to win and this is what really matters”. 
“We fell behind in the second set and it was very difficult to come back. We were looking for the right tempo in this game and we struggled in attack. We have to play a lot better in the coming matches to stand a chance to make it to the World Champs” Finland’s team captain Mauri Kurppa added.
“We were not ready to play such a long game and lost rhythm and energy after the third set” Milorad Krunic, Croatia’s head coach, stressed. “This shows that we did not prepare good enough for this tournament as my guys are not in shape to play such an exhausting match. However, though everyone expected the Finns to rout us in straight sets, we have showed our potential. We have improved significantly and hope we can continue to grow”.
Leo Andrić, Croatia’s opposite player: “We came here as the underdogs of the tournament. We were underestimated, but we did our best and showed that we can battle with these teams. We had our chances in this match, but we are happy with the point we could get. Maybe we were a little bit tired and we lacked practice, so as the tournament progresses I think we will play better”.  

To round out the first competition day the hosts of Serbia edged Slovakia in three straight sets (25-20, 25-19, and 27-25). Slovakia’s Filip Gavenda top scored in the game with 14 points while home star Uros Kovacevic (pictured) paced Serbia with 12.
Serbia got control of the game right from the start and gradually widened its lead to bring it home at 25-20 in the first set. The hosts dictated the pace of the game also in the second set going up 8:4 and 16:10 and could keep that margin up to the very end (25-19). In set 3 Serbia got off to a 5:2 lead and did not slow down (16:11); however, right after the second technical time-out Slovakia attempted a comeback and could make it 17:15 prompting a Serbian time-out. The guys around head coach Sinisa Reljic responded well, got back control of the game (22:18) but Slovakia fought back once more cutting the gap to only one point (23:22). The guests even leveled the count at 23 all and had a set point before Aleksandar Okolic restored the balance for the home side at 24:24. After missing out on a first match ball, Serbia finished it off at 27-25 with a block by Cedomir Stankovic for the final 3:0.  
Siniša Reljić, head coach of Serbia, said: "I am happy with the final score, but not so much with our performance. We were pretty reckless in some moments and we can’t play like this in the upcoming matches because we will be punished severely by our next opponents”.
Aleksa Brdjovic, Serbia’s setter, added: “I am not satisfied with our performance today. But I can understand it. We have some new players joining the team, and we need time to adjust. I am sure we will improve in the following matches”.
Miroslav Palgut, head coach of Slovakia: “I am satisfied because we played well against such a strong team. It is a pity we did not take at least one set, but Serbia was too good”.
Adam Prielozny, captain of Slovakia: “We fought well today. At the beginning we were a little bit afraid, and when we started to be more relaxed it was 2:0 to Serbia, and too late to recover. But we showed some of our potential, and think we will play even better in the upcoming matches”.

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