Montenegro ends Croatia’s winning streak in Pool E, but Omrcen & Co. still advance to Final Round
2015 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Men
Zagreb, Croatia, May 24, 2014. Croatia’s winning streak in Pool E surprisingly came to an end after four consecutive victories. On Saturday the hosts lost to their neighbors from Montenegro in five sets (23-25, 25-23, 24-26, 25-23, 8-15) but after the Netherlands also lost to Romania later in the day (0:3; 24-26, 22-25, 15-25), Croatia made sure they would finish atop the group even with one round still to go. The Netherlands, Romania and Montenegro are all still in contention for second place in the Pool and therefore will be extra motivated for their last matches on Sunday in order to make the third and last stage of the qualification process which is scheduled for May 2015.
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Croatia vs. Montenegro 2:3 (23-25, 25-23, 24-26, 25-23, 8-15)
Croatia and Montenegro played at eye level right from the start and this trend continued for four sets. Montenegro showed once more their excellent blocking skills and sometimes could score a few consecutive points by exploiting this fundamental. They repeatedly blocked Croatia’s top spikers – Igor Omrcen, Ivan Raic and Ivan Mihalj – already in the first set. Croatia, on the other hand, stood out in the serving area, especially with Omrcen and Raic.
The match was that close that for four sets even the losing team scored at least 23 points in each set. After Croatia had claimed the fourth set, mostly with the help of their superstar Igor Omrcen, the fans in Zagreb expected their heroes would show that same momentum also in the tie-break. However, it turned out that Montenegro played better there, with Milos Culafic and Gojko Cuk steering the guests to an unexpected and shocking victory. After claiming an early 5:2 lead, the players from Montenegro never looked back and cruised straight to the final 15-8.
“That was a very beautiful match,” commented an elated Montenegrin head coach Slobodan Boskan. “Croatia is a very strong opponent and we had to work hard for every point. It wasn’t easy at all, even though we won the tie-break by a comfortable margin. We showed excellent blocks and our service was pretty good too. These elements were the key to our victory.”
Romania vs. Netherlands 3:0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-15)
It was a day packed with surprises in Zagreb as Romania followed Montenegro’s victory over the hosts of Croatia with a terrific performance to down the Netherlands in three straight sets. This way Romania keeps alive their chances of claiming second place in the Pool.
Romania actually started the match showing many problems in reception so the “Oranjes” got an early 8:4 lead. However, after stabilizing their defense play, Romania flipped the charts around, made it 18 all and eventually won the first set (26-24) on an ace by Razvan Mihalcea.
The second set followed a very similar plot with the Netherlands moving up 9:7 before Romania stormed back playing with glowing hearts and scoring a series of good points with Laurentiu Lica and Andrei-Vlad Tebies to make it 16:10 at the second technical time-out. After that it looked like the Dutchmen disappeared from the court. They found it difficult to score points while Romania almost converted every single attack.
“We came here to fight for every single ball and every set,” said Romania’s head coach Danut Pascu. “We had showed that spirit also in our match with Croatia yesterday but this game with the Netherlands was our masterpiece. We showed good motivation, excellent fighting spirit and we also have good players. With all this put together we simply could not lose.”