Busto Arsizio, Italy, October 11, 2015. Russia recorded a 3-1 (25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 25-20) victory in the much anticipated clash with Serbia to complete a clean sweep of their matches in Pool D and secure a spot in the quarterfinals of the men’s EuroVolley 2015 coming up on Wednesday. Serbia will continue their journey in the playoffs with a match against Estonia that finished in third place in Pool B following Sunday’s victory over Croatia. Finland opened the final day of pool play at Palayamamay in Busto Arsizio by delivering an outstanding performance to rout Slovakia by 3-0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-22) and secure their qualification to the playoff stage as well. The Suomis were extra powered by some 3,000 fans, which accounted for the large majority of the 4,200-strong crowd in attendance for the last day of action in Pool D and will now take on co-hosts Italy in the playoffs in a remake of the match these teams played two years ago at the same stage of the competition.
Finland vs. Slovakia 3-0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-22)
Though they ended up losing in three sets, Slovakia started the match in full swing with a 4-0 run that prompted an early time-out by Finland’s mentor Tuomas Sammelvuo. The Finns seemed to struggle to find their way into the match and Slovakia stretched their lead to 7-3. After the first technical time-out with Slovakia setting the pace at 8-5, Olli-Pekka Ojansivu started his personal show bringing his team back on track and reducing the gap to only one point (10-11). Slovakia still got a margin of two at the second technical time-out but the score was eventually leveled at 20 all. Finland’s team captain Antti Siltala contributed set point at 24-23 and Ojansivu closed the set for the Finns shortly afterwards (26-24).
Slovakia once more came out with all guns blazing also in the second set (5-3) but Finland this time were a lot quicker in catching up with their opponents. Siltala and his teammates made it 10 all and the Finns eventually edged ahead at 13-12 as Slovakia’s defense started to falter. The guys in blue shirts went to the front at the second technical time-out and even though the Italian-born coach of Slovakia Alberto Giuliani tried a few different options in order to turn the tide, Finland responded well with Ojansivu and their opposite spiker Urpo Sivula (22-19), before the set came to a close with a service error by Slovakia (25-22).
The same story continued also in the third set where Slovakia edged ahead at 8-6 before Finland responded again with the great and powerful arm of Sivula to make it 14-8 in their favor with a run of eight consecutive points. Slovakia seemed to crack under the pressure and Finland’s lead was widened to six points at the second mandatory break. At this stage the Suomi fans had already started their party on the stands of Palayamamay but Slovakia had some kind of a reaction after their team captain Martin Sopko joined the actions. Finland’s lead went down to three points at 19-16 but the final section of the set was fully controlled by the Finns who closed the game at 25-22 with an incredible performance by their opposite Urpo Sivula.
Olli-Pekka Ojansivu topped the scorers’ charts with 18 points, while Matej Patak recorded 12 for Slovakia.
Slovakia’s coach Alberto Giuliani said: “We did not expect to be eliminated today, and actually we really expected to continue our journey at this European Championship. We wanted to make sure that our young players get some experience at this level and at least we did this. Unfortunately today we had a bad day and our attacks were not working. Of course it is always difficult to accept such a bad loss.”
Slovakia’s middle blocker Emanuel Kohut: “Finland played with their heart and my team was really scared, especially the young players that do not have enough experience in this kind of big championships. It was a pity that we lost the first game against Serbia. We got only one point from the first match and this did not help us.”
Finland’s spiker Olli Kunnari: “Today we played a good match. Our defense was good and we were much more in the game than Slovakia and we played better. I am really happy with the result.”
Serbia vs. Russia 1-3 (23-25, 25-21, 18-25, 20-25)
Russia confirmed their status as red-hot favorite for back-to-back European titles as they edged Serbia in the final match of Pool D to claim first place in the group and move on straight to the quarterfinals coming up on Wednesday at Palayamamay in Busto Arsizio.
Dmitriy Muserskiy set the pace for Russia in the opening set as the 2013 gold medal winners claimed an 8-6 lead. Serbia remained focused and with their star opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic they were able to restore the balance at 10 all. A series of spectacular rallies paved the way for the second technical time-out before a monster block by Muserskiy moved the score to 22-20 for Russia. Artem Volvich piled up three set points for the reigning Olympic champions at 24-21 but Serbia fought back to 23-24 with two consecutive cross-court attacks by Marko Ivovic. Russian coach Vladimir Alekno took a time-out and once the guys stepped onto the court, they immediately finished it all off at 25-23.
The two teams traded points up to 10 all in the second set. Russia spiked off the bounds to propel a 16-15 Serbian lead at the second technical time-out. Atanasijevic then moved the score to 18-16 but Russia responded well making it 19 all. The final section of the set was a dramatic one, middle blocker Srecko Lisinac claimed a two-point advantage for Serbia at 23-21 and an ace followed by a kill block ended the set at 25-21 for the 2013 bronze medal winners.
Russia stormed out to a massive 11-5 lead in set 3 as Maxim Mikhailov was just on fire and their block worked fine. Serbia could not keep the pace of their opponent at this stage and Russia shot up to a landslide 16-8 lead at the second technical time-out. As his side was trailing 10-17 and the set looked gone Russia’s way, Serbian coach Nikola Grbic gave some rest to his opposite Atanasijevic in order for him to be back in great shape for the next stanza and as Serbia used a bunch of their second lines, Russia easily cruised to the final 25-18.
The story of the game did not change in the fourth set where Russia continued to spike from all corners to claim an early 5-1 lead. Russia did not slow their pace down and Egor Kliuka smashed one down for 10-6. Serbia seemed to have lost concentration and motivation, this resulting in another 16-8 lead for Russia at the second mandatory break. However, with an incredible effort and showing the spirit they are known for, the Serbians bounced back but Russia did not tremble and eventually sealed the final 25-20 on a Serbian service error.
Maxim Mikhailov top scored in the end with 19 points, winning the duel of the opposites with Aleksandar Atanasijevic as the Serbian star piled up ‘only’ 13.
Serbia’s outside spiker Uros Kovacevic commented: “We needed to find a way to stand the very strong serve of Russia, but today we were not able to do so. We played some high balls and attacked well but Russia has also a very strong block, especially the one raised by Muserskiy and our attacks systematically crushed against it. The first and second sets we played well but we found it very hard to recover the wide gap we had early on in the third and the fourth periods.”
Serbia’s mentor Nikola Grbic said: “We played two sets at the same level and I am disappointed we lost the first since we did not take advantage of three free balls. In the second set we were able to weaken their defense with our good serves but we were not able to maintain this same level also in the other sets. Now we need to forget this match and focus on the next one.”
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