Sofia, Bulgaria, October 10, 2015. The second competition day at Arena Armeec started on Saturday afternoon with a marathon match starring the Netherlands and Germany. The Oranjes eventually claimed their second victory in the competition, this time at the tie-breaker by 3-2 (17-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13) after Germany’s coach Vital Heynen opted for a rather unusual starting line-up and made a few more changes during the remainder of the game. Later in the evening the home heroes of Bulgaria were forced to work hard in their second match of the pool phase and had to come back twice from one set down before edging out the Czech Republic at the tie-breaker by 3-2 (19-25, 25-20, 16-25, 25-19, 15-9) to claim the provisional leadership in the pool before their final match with the Netherlands follows on Sunday.
Netherlands vs. Germany 3-2 (17-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13)
Germany had suffered a real setback in their opening match-up with host Bulgaria on Friday night while the Netherlands could play with almost no pressure following their victory over the Czech Republic. Germany struggled a little bit at the beginning but as the opening set progressed they seemed to slowly but surely find their rhythm, thus piling up a five-point lead at the second technical time-out (16-11). An ace by middle blocker Marcus Boehme moved the score to 19-13 Germany’s way and resulted in a Dutch time-out. Germany’s mentor Vital Heynen had opted for a different line-up than in Friday’s match with Bulgaria including team captain Jochen Schoeps as opposite and outside spiker Sebastian Schwarz; everything seemed to work just fine for the guys in golden shirts and a short black-out towards the end did not prevent Germany from cashing a fairly comfortable 25-17 set win. The second set, on the other hand, was a very close race with Germany coming out with all guns blazing, but equality was soon re-established on the scoreboard. A superb block by Kay Van Dijk claimed a first set point for the Dutch (24-23) and the Oranjes did not dissipate their chance to even the match (25-23).
Vital Heynen continued to change his line-up also in the third set where Dirk Westphal and young spiker Tom Strohbach got the opportunity to perform at the iconic Armeec Arena. This combination seemed to work pretty well as Germany set the pace of the game right from the onset of the third stanza but the Dutch closed in twice at 12-13 and 14-15 to re-open the fate of this period. Germany continued to rest their star player Gyorgy Grozer following his disappointing performance in the match with Bulgaria but even without his contribution the Baku 2015 European Games gold medalists roared towards the end of the set, eventually finishing it off at 25-22 with their middle blocker Tim Broshog.
The course of the game changed again in the fourth set, this time with the Netherlands setting the pace right from the early stages. Dick Kooy stepped up his efforts for the Oranjes and he steered the Netherlands to a well-deserved 25-21 set win, which was propelled also by as many as seven mistakes made by the Germans. The Dutch stretched momentum also to the opening phases of the tie-breaker (5-2) and even though Germany lived up to their fame as real fighters coming back strong, the Oranjes were the ones to celebrate in the end a victory they sealed after missing out on two match balls and cashing their third one after a decision by the first referee was overruled via the challenge system (15-13).
Vital Heynen, head coach of Germany: “It was not my tactical decision to lose to the Netherlands, in order to play against Bulgaria at the quarterfinals, because it is too far. Even if we had won against the Netherlands, we would still need to win tomorrow. Today we just played with another team. Winning by 3-2 or losing by 2-3 – there is no difference. If we lose by 0-3 to the Czech Republic, we are out. We lost two games; it is time to win one.”
Gyorgy Grozer, player of Germany: “This was not a tactical decision. We talked with the coach before and he told us that it was not important to lose or to win today, because the important game is against the Czech Republic. He gave me a free day to rest. He also gave some rest to Jochen Schoeps. We need to have enough power for tomorrow. We are not thinking about a second game against Bulgaria, because we have more games in front of us – first, against the Czech Republic, and if we win – maybe against Belgium, which has a strong team. We are moving step by step. I do not look so far ahead. After three days maybe we can talk about another game with Bulgaria.”
Gido Vermeulen, head coach of the Netherlands: “I think that the German coach played to lose. This is not good sportsmanship, this is not fair play. The Netherlands would never do this. If I am the coach, I will never go to lose any game. Tomorrow will be a beautiful game. We are playing against Bulgaria. For the first time we will play in front of 12,000 spectators. And we are going to enjoy that game. We do not know how to beat Bulgaria. Now we are so tired from five sets playing.”
Johanes Bontje, player of the Netherlands: “I never made the calculations before the game. That is why I do not know if the Germans wanted to lose or not. We won by 3-2 and now will play with Bulgaria for the first place in Pool A. We will enjoy the match and fight for the first place in the pool. I expect it to be quite noisy at the hall; the Bulgarian fans are real help for the domestic team.”
Czech Republic vs. Bulgaria 2-3 (25-19, 20-25, 25-16, 19-25, 9-15)
Possibly deceived by the circulating idea that the Czech Republic is the underdog in this pool, the Bulgarians started the game calmly and took to the first technical time-out with a one-point advantage. But then the Czechs surprised them scoring six in a row with Jakub Janouch behind the serving line. Another series of four unanswered points followed to give the Czechs a comfortable 17-9 lead – a blow the home team never recovered from. Zdenek Smejkal’s attackers continued their steady performance to finish the set at 25-19.
This continued into the second set and the Czechs quickly piled up a 12-7 advantage. It was time for the Lions to wake up and they clawed their way back up to draw level at 16-16. Regaining confidence, they took control over the scoreboard through the rest of the set and Todor Aleksiev’s powerful spike stopped the clocks at 25-20. But this did not put an end to the suffering for Plamen Konstantinov’s squad. The third set was completely dominated by the Czech team. Starting off with a 5-0, the central Europeans took advantage of the many errors on their opponent’s side and never looked back on the way to a convincing 25-16 win.
The Czechs had no intention on stopping here. They continued their quest on to a 9-6 lead in the fourth set. Even with his back against the wall, Konstantinov was not tempted to call on experienced captain Vladimir Nikolov, to whom he had given some rest, and Miroslav Gradinarov, who had taken the role of opposite at that moment, did not let him down. His spikes contributed for the last two points in the set shaping up the 25-19 final score. Gradinarov drove the team’s attack forward in the fifth set as well and the Lions stamped their second victory after winning the tie-breaker by 15-9.
Michal Finger was once again the Czech Republic’s top scorer with 18 points, this time well supported by teammate Adam Bartos with 17. Todor Aleksiev contributed 13 points to the winning side’s tally.
Plamen Konstantinov, head coach of Bulgaria: “No EuroVolley finalist should be underestimated. My concerns after yesterday’s victory were confirmed. So today’s result may come as a surprise only to someone who did not hear what I said. The only thing I am pleased with is the win, but this match should serve as a lesson for us. I expect a packed Arena for the important game against the Netherlands tomorrow, which will decide the pool winner. We need the support of our fans.”
Zdenek Smejkal, head coach of the Czech Republic: “We lost the game due to many mistakes from our side. But I want to thank my team. They acted like men on the court and played very well. We were at least an equal opponent to Bulgaria tonight. The atmosphere in Bulgaria is fantastic. We are proud to play in front of this crowd. About the game tomorrow – we will do our best to beat the Germans and send them home.
Michal Finger, player of the Czech Republic: “We lost the game so we cannot be happy. In the fourth set we made mistakes, but the referees made some big mistakes as well. But I must say that we did not play so well in the fourth set. In the tie-breaker it is all about luck. The Germans were the favorites, but everybody saw that they played tactically against the Netherlands in the hope to finish third. For sure this was not fair play. We will fight hard against Germany to go to the next stage.”
Nikolay Penchev, player of Bulgaria: “Today’s match was really hard for us. It was not like the game against Germany when everything worked out well. It is too hard after such a powerful game to play the next one on the same level. The most important thing is that we managed to take the victory. We are moving forward with two victories. After all, 3-2 is still a win and we should be happy about it. We will take some notes from the game against the Czech Republic and we are going for the win against the Netherlands. We know that it will be another hard game, but we want the first place.”
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