Busto Arsizio, Italy, October 13, 2015. Estonia confirmed their status as a real sensation of the men’s EuroVolley 2015 as on Tuesday they claimed a 2-0 lead in their playoff match with 2013 bronze medal winners Serbia before their much more experienced opponents stormed back to win three sets in a row and secure a hard-fought 3-2 (21-25, 14-25, 25-8, 25-22, 15-13) victory, and with it also their spot in the quarterfinals to play against France on Wednesday. The program of the playoff round at Palayamamay came to a close on Tuesday night with a classy performance by hosts Italy who cruised to a fairly comfortable 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-22) win over Finland to shape up a classy quarterfinal match-up with Russia, a remake of the match these teams played only a few weeks ago at the World Cup in Japan as well as of the 2013 gold medal match that was contested at Parken stadium in Copenhagen.
Serbia vs. Estonia 3-2 (21-25, 14-25, 25-8, 25-22, 15-13)
The first match of the playoff stage at Palayamamay was played before a crowd of 2,000 fans, including a number of Estonian supporters who contributed to a very nice ambiance.
Estonia started out strong (5-3) and continued to set the pace of the game also at the first technical time-out (8-4) as Serbia seemed to struggle to find their way into the match. Nikola Grbic decided to change his opposite spiker and best scorer Aleksandar Atanasijevic and replaced him with Sasa Starovic. This quite helped as Serbia drew level at 10 all before Estonia edged ahead again at the second mandatory break (16-14). Serbia could not keep the pace of their opponents, trailed 15-20 and even though Grbic replaced most of his starting players, Estonia comfortably claimed the opening set by 25-21.
Estonia continued their sensational performance also in the second set with setter Kert Toobal finding in spiker Keith Pupart one of the most prolific options. Estonia claimed again an 8-4 lead at the first technical time-out and as Serbia continued to make mistakes, the outsiders widened their margin to 12-6. Robert Taht called for the second technical time-out with a terrific shot (16-8) and even the addition of team captain Dragan Stankovic could not help Serbia prevent a landslide 14-25 set loss.
The story of the match changed completely in the third stanza where Serbia fought back and Aleksandar Atanasijevic opened proceedings standing behind the serving line pushing his team to a speedy 6-2 lead. Estonia could not organize their counter-attack and quickly trailed by 4-12. The underdogs suddenly lost confidence and focus and the set ended in a terrific 25-8 win for the 2013 bronze medal winners.
The battle was on as the fourth set got started but Atanasijevic and Stankovic helped Serbia edge ahead at 10-6. Estonia responded with a great performance by their middle blocker Ardo Kreek and Robert Taht ultimately leveled the score at 13 all. Estonia tried to stay close but Serbia changed gear cruising to 24-19. It was far from being over since Estonia cut the deficit to only two points at 22-24 following an ace by Toobal but Serbia eventually closed the set at 25-22.
The score remained very close in the tie-breaker too (6-6, 9-9). Serbia got their match point after a net fault by Toobal and Atanasijevic closed it out with a sterling spike for 15-13.
Aleksandar Atanasijevic top scored in the end with 20 points while Oliver Venno and Robert Taht piled up 15 points each for Estonia in their losing, yet sensational effort.
Serbian coach Nikola Grbic said: “It is always a tough game when you start thinking that you will win easily and that is what happened in this match. We repeated the same performance that we had with Slovakia. We were not concentrated and it is always difficult when you play against a team that has nothing to lose.”
Serbia’s team captain Dragan Stankovic: “We were not mentally ready to play against Estonia. Today we ended up celebrating a victory only thanks to our good luck. I am happy that I was able to give my contribution to the team during this very difficult match but if we continue to play in this way I am afraid we will not be able to win a medal. We need to recover mentally.”
Estonian captain Kert Toobal commented: “After the second set Serbia returned to their usual level and we started to make too many errors, but we never gave up. We kept on fighting as a team. I am very disappointed because we came so close to the victory and to the possibility of moving still further ahead in this European Championship.”
Italy vs. Finland 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-22)
Italy had to fight for only three sets to edge Finland and secure their qualification for the quarterfinals of EuroVolley 2015 in front of 3,800 fans at Palayamamay.
The match started with a close race (4-4) before the Azzurri got to the front at the first technical time-out (8-6). Urpo Sivula propelled the next tie at 9 all but a spectacular attack by middle blocker Matteo Piano contributed a 16-14 lead for Italy at the second mandatory break. Another mind-boggling action by Osmany Juantorena and a kill block by Ivan Zaytsev moved the score to 20-17 Italy’s way and Finland could not compensate for that gap anymore, eventually losing the opening set by 19-25.
Finland did not lose focus or determination and the score remained tight also in the early stages of the second set (5-5). Italy got the narrowest margin at the first technical time-out (8-7) before Finland edged ahead at 13-9 with the help of their setter Eemi Tervaportti and middle blocker Konstantin Shumov. At this stage Italy’s mentor Gian Lorenzo Blengini asked for a time-out and the Azzurri got quickly back on track turning the tide and leading by 17-14 shortly after the second technical time-out. Ivan Zaytsev helped Italy widen their lead to 22-15 and an ace by team captain Simone Buti got the home side closer to winning the set, which eventually happened on a service error made by the Finns (25-16).
Finland came out with all guns blazing also in the third set (7-3) but Italy’s young setter Simone Giannelli orchestrated his team’s play very well to make it 8 all. Finland got ahead once more at 12-9 but the Azzurri fought their way back again and again, with Filippo Lanza making it 16-15 at the second technical time-out. Finland responded leveling the score at 19 all, and after their opposite Urpo Sivula had to leave the court because of an injury, Olli-Pekka Ojansivu took command of their play moving the score to 21-20 in favor of the Suomis. However, Osmany Juantorena took Italy by the hand and another service error by the Finns ended the set and the match at 25-22.
Osmany Juantorena and Ivan Zaytsev top scored for Italy with 14 points each whilst Finland’s opposite Urpo Sivula paced his side with 13.
Italy’s coach Gian Lorenzo Blengini said: “It was important for us to win this match, but we knew it was not going to be easy coming from the defeat against France. At the end we won and this is the most important thing. Now we must focus on the next match against the reigning Olympic champions who are really in perfect shape. We need to prepare ourselves very well also mentally.”
Italian star spiker Ivan Zaytsev commented: “It was my first time at Palayamamay and it was great to play with all these supporters behind us. We came from a bad defeat but we were able to reset ourselves and win the match. Tomorrow we will play an in-or-out match against Russia. We know they are a very strong team and we must keep focused and serve well trying to cause problems to their defense.”
Finland’s mentor Tuomas Sammelvuo said: “Theoretically Italy is stronger than us but on the court everything can change. We played at their level but their serving was better than ours and in particular Juantorena’s was deadly. I am sorry about the defeat but it was a great experience and I am satisfied with how we performed and how far we have gone in this tournament.”
Finland’s outside spiker Olli Kunnari: “Italy was better and especially Juantorena played really well. We had difficulties, especially when he was standing behind the serving line. I think our spirit was good, we fought very hard but against this team, which is also playing at home, we knew it was very difficult to win.”
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