Varna, Bulgaria, October 10, 2015. After losing in straight sets to Poland on the opening day of the men’s EuroVolley 2015 in Varna, Belgium’s Red Dragons performed very well in their must-win bout with Belarus cruising to a 3-0 (25-17, 25-18, 25-17) win, which somehow paves their way towards the playoff round set to follow on Tuesday, October 13, at Arena Armeec in Sofia. Saturday’s program at the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna came to an end with an exciting match where reigning world champions Poland beat European League gold medalists Slovenia by 3-1 (25-21, 28-30, 28-26, 25-13) to cement their leadership in the pool and secure their promotion to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Belarus vs. Belgium 0-3 (17-25, 18-25, 17-25)
Belgium’s Red Dragons controlled the match from start to end. They played very aggressive right from the onset of the opening set combining good serving with a solid block. On the other side of the net, Belarusian setter Dzmitry Vash seemed to struggle to find the right timing and chemistry with his teammates and this paved the way for a speedy 25-17 Belgian win in the first set. The Red Dragons continued to perform strong also in the second set and they closed in their favor all of the long and hard-fought rallies that delighted the fans in attendance (25-18). The start of the third set was marked by a great action contributed by Belgian libero Stijn Dejonckheere which was well finalized by his teammates to move the score up to 5-2. Even though Belarus performed a lot better halfway through this period, they still made far too many errors to keep up with the Belgians who deservedly finished the match in three sets to claim their first win in Pool C.
Belgium’s coach Dominique Baeyens commented: “The result of this game was really important for us. We needed a victory; this kind of games are never that easy as you know that you have to win and you do not have any other choice. So this brings some extra pressure but my team managed to deal with it. We controlled the game from start to end, we were focused all the time and we didn’t make almost any mistakes. As for tomorrow’s match with Slovenia, the chances are 50:50. The Slovenian team is really good and I think that it will be a great match.”
Belgium’s middle blocker Pieter Coolman said: “It was a game that we had to win to make sure we will move on to the next round, so we did our job. I think that we played really focused like our coach expects us to do in such kind of matches. We put a lot of pressure with our serve and Belarus on the other hand made quite many mistakes in attack. As for tomorrow, if we want to stand some real chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals, it is definitely better that we finish second in our pool, which means that tomorrow’s match with Slovenia is very important and we need to win it. It will not be easy. Slovenia is a very good team. And if you look at the potential that we and they have, you know already that the match will be close and interesting to watch.”
Belarusian mentor Victor Sidelnikov said: “We did not perform well today. The main reason is that we do not have enough experience. We have many young players who tried to fight during the whole match but in key moments we could not make the right decisions. And the players could not understand how to execute our tactical plan. We prepared very carefully for this match – checking videos, stats, and we worked out a tactical plan which we did not execute during the game. This is our biggest problem – young players who do not understand what they have to do on court.”
Belarusian player Viachaslau Charapovich: “For sure today we played better than yesterday. It was not enough to win but we tried to do our best, to receive well, to spike well, to serve well. We improved our game but still we have a lot of things which we need to improve on. It was tough, it was difficult, it was better than yesterday with Slovenia but I know we can do a lot better. Tomorrow we play against the world champions. They are like from another planet, but we have come here to win every match we play. Even if this is the toughest team in the world we will try to do our best.”
Slovenia vs. Poland 1-3 (21-25, 30-28, 26-28, 13-25)
Poland started off strong in the much anticipated match with the gold medal winners from this year’s CEV Volleyball European League. Bartosz Kurek paced the reigning world champions in the opening set and he was a real nightmare for the Slovenian receivers, his performance resulting also into a number of aces. Slovenia tried to stay close in the score but the players mentored by Stephane Antiga showed nerves of steel in the key moments of the first period.
The second set was a real battle and delivered the most spectacular and exciting actions witnessed so far by the audience in Varna. Slovenia set the pace of the game for most of the time and especially their star opposite spiker Mitja Gasparini stole the show. The Slovenian star stamped an ace for the 28-27 and shortly afterwards he smashed down a terrific spike to contribute another set point; this one was cashed as Mateusz Mika hit the antenna and this way helped Slovenia seal the final 30-28.
The drama continued in the third set where Poland claimed a 24-20 lead but the players around Italian volleyball legend Andrea Giani did not give up. The man on fire was Klemen Cebulj and he really scored a few important points towards the end of the set. However, Kurek stopped him to contribute another set point and after a block-out Poland closed the set at 26-24.
The fourth set was a completely different story. Poland claimed a comfortable lead right from its onset and the young middle blocker Mateusz Bieniek widened it further with two consecutive aces. Poland’s block worked just fine as well; Kurek added another few points to Poland’s tally with some terrific attacks and the set was quickly over at 25-13.
Andrea Giani, coach of Slovenia, said after the match: “I am proud of my players! It is a pleasure and honor to watch how they played face to face against the best team in the world! If we play every time like we did in the second and third sets, we can beat every team in the world! But at the same time, if we perform like we did in the opening set, anyone can beat us. The experience at this level made the difference tonight and our spirits went down after losing the third set. Our main goal at this European Championship is to play every match like we did today and possibly like we did in the second and third sets. Every match we contest is a valuable and precious experience to us.”
Slovenia’s team captain Tine Urnaut commented: “It was a good match for us but I am not so happy because we had some chances and did not manage to use them to their full extent; this applies especially to the end of the third set where we stood a chance of bringing it home. We had a set point but we missed out on it and after that our rhythm went down and we lost the fourth set very badly. We played at a very high level in the second and third sets. We did not give up and came back strong when the score stood at 20-24. After losing the third set it was difficult to regroup and Poland easily beat us.”
Poland’s mentor Stephane Antiga said: “I expected such a difficult game. We started well. After that we did not show our best volleyball, whereas Slovenia delivered an incredibly good performance, especially in defense and in blocking. However, in the fourth set we played very aggressively and I am very satisfied with that.”
Poland’s team captain Michal Kubiak: “It was a good game for us. We controlled the first set and had our chances also in the second but we did not use them as we made a lot of mistakes in this period, I think 16 or so. It is too much if you want to win a set but in spite of all this, we were very close to seizing it, so this means that we put a lot of pressure on our opponents. We have not started thinking about the next round and who we will be playing there. We are essentially focused on ourselves and the performance we deliver on court.”
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