Turin, Italy, October 11, 2015. On Sunday late afternoon France upset a sell-out crowd at Palavela in Turin storming back from two sets down to edge Italy at the tie-breaker by 3-2 (23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-17, 15-13) and claim a spot in the quarterfinals of the men’s EuroVolley 2015. Italy, on the other hand, will resume their campaign on Tuesday playing Finland which finished third in Pool D contested in Busto Arsizio. Earlier in the afternoon, after losing their previous matches in Pool B to hosts Italy and 2015 FIVB World League gold medalists France, the players of Estonia accomplished their mission and qualified for the playoff stage after routing Croatia by 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-10) in a make-or-break bout where third place in the group was at stake. The last and only time Estonia had made it that far in Europe’s elite competition was in 2011 when they reached the playoff stage as well in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, eventually losing to Bulgaria in three sets.
Estonia vs. Croatia 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-10)
Estonia claimed their first victory in Turin routing Croatia in three sets in the first match that opened the program for the last day of action at the iconic Palavela. The sports hall was sold-out and the crowd included also a large number of Estonian supporters.
The Estonian guys set the tone of the match right from the start looking much focused and combining excellent defense with great spikes. Their initial 8-0 run was somehow a good omen for what was going to follow for the guys that earlier this year had recorded ten straight wins in the prelims of the CEV Volleyball European League. Croatia attempted a comeback and their reaction was steered by team captain Igor Omrcen, an effort which reduced their gap to four points at the second technical time-out (16-12). However, Estonia did not lose composure and Keith Pupart and Oliver Venno paved the way for the final 25-19 set win for the guys from Tallinn.
The second set went in a different way as Omrcen and his teammates showed they were not keen to give up that easily. It was a tight race up to 20-15 but after that Andri Aganits, Robert Taht and Venno stepped up their efforts thereby steering their boat to a fairly comfortable 25-18 set win which was sealed by a spike killed by Taht.
The opening stages of the third set provided for another close race but Estonia broke away after the first technical time-out quickly moving the score from 10-6 to 20-8. Robert Taht was the real star of this stanza as Estonia continued to show their determination and desire to continue this EuroVolley adventure. Their fighting spirit was eventually rewarded as a Croatian mistake sealed the final 25-10 to Venno & Co. who could celebrate their qualification to the playoff round which is set to follow on Tuesday at Palayamamay in Busto Arsizio.
Estonia’s star player Oliver Venno said: “I am really excited and proud of my team. We played two difficult matches against Italy and France, and today against Croatia we eventually were able to fulfill our desire to win. Now we can start dreaming; we will compete against Russia or Serbia, two of the strongest teams out there. It is going to be very difficult but we want to make the most out of this chance and thank the supporters that have been boosting us so much for the last three days.”
Croatian mentor Igor Simuncic commented: “We could not control the technical side as we wanted and this is evident from the final result. Estonia, on the other hand, played an excellent match making very few mistakes; we were put under a lot of pressure and we could not find a way to react.”
France vs. Italy 3-2 (23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-17, 15-13)
France claimed their third straight victory in Pool B edging Italy at the tie-breaker, this way upsetting a crowd of 8,200 fans in attendance at Palavela. The atmosphere was just great for the last match of EuroVolley 2015 being played at one of the venues that hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics.
As expected, the teams started to fight bravely right from the onset of the match. France claimed an early lead as their game was perfectly orchestrated by setter Benjamin Toniutti and Kevin Le Roux killed some terrific spikes. However, the hosts were passionately and loudly cheered on by their fans and first leveled the score at 15 all before edging ahead at 22-18. The final stages of the set were a very close race with both the teams displaying strong motivation; the last point was cashed by Filippo Lanza (25-23) who performed very well as did also setter Simone Giannelli and middle blocker Matteo Piano.
Italy performed just superbly in the second set, as Giannelli could count on all of his spikers and libero Massimo Colaci did a great job in defense. France tried to get back on track halfway through as Italy started making some mistakes, but the Azzurri looked almost unstoppable and with a great team effort they managed to double their lead in the match (25-21).
The third set was a kind of carbon copy of the first one, with the only difference being its final outcome. This time around France was able to prevent yet another victory from the hosts, Toniutti played very smart and Le Roux finalized many actions. Italy, on the other hand, made an increasing number of errors and the third set ended in a fairly comfortable 25-19 win for France.
The two teams fought hard to edge ahead in set 4 and at 15-11 France seemed to have everything under control. Italy, on the other hand, suffered a drop of determination and focus whilst their opponents kept on playing better and better. Kevin Tillie, Le Roux and Earvin Ngapeth paced Les Bleus and even though the audience cheered the home heroes on with as much passion as they could, France won also the fourth set by 25-17.
The tie-breaker opened with the two teams fighting hard to complete their campaign in the pool phase with a third straight victory, France and Italy played at the same level but the visitors were those to celebrate in the end (15-13) a win that takes them straight to the quarterfinals.
Italy’s spiker Osmany Juantorena commented: “Even though we got to see a very good performance from our side for the two first sets, it is really hard to lose the match as we did. France deserved this victory, and though it really hurts now we have to move on, and we will prepare for the next round. After leading by two sets to none, we almost stopped playing, tiredness did not help us and we lost a match that seemed almost won.”
Home setter Simone Giannelli said: “We played badly in the third set, where we wasted many opportunities. A volleyball match always finishes only once you have won three sets. Now we will entirely focus on the next round which is coming up soon in Busto Arsizio.”
Italy’s mentor Gian Lorenzo Blengini: “It was a very important and very long match. France won and deserved it. We made the mistake of thinking that we had already won after seizing the two first sets. We served quite badly, while they remained focused, defended very well and caused us troubles.”
Filippo Lanza concluded: “They served very well and we had some problems in reception, but playing here has been fantastic. Sometimes you can lose, better today than in the next days. We still have the possibility to do better. Now we must concentrate on the next round, being motivated and always believing in ourselves.”
France’s setter and team captain Benjamin Toniutti said: “Italy is very strong, but we put pressure on them. We found the right solutions to overcome them playing as a team, spiking and defending, serving well. This is the result of the work of the entire team. Now we have to pay attention to Serbia and Estonia, but we know that we can do it and make the semis.”
For more information on the 2015 CEV Volleyball European Championship - Men in social media, please use the competition’s official hashtag #EuroVolleyM.