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28/07/2016 23:04
Italy, Poland secure second straight win at #FIVBMensU23 qualifier
2017 FIVB U23 Men's Volleyball World Championships - European Qualification

Zagreb, Croatia, July 28, 2016. Italy extended their winning streak on the second day of the European qualifier for next year’s FIVB U23 Men’s Volleyball World Championship after making up for a slow start to eventually pull out a 3-1 win in their matchup with Slovenia (17-25, 28-26, 25-20, 25-10). Italy have collected maximum points – six – from the two matches they have contested so far. Later in the afternoon pre-favourite Poland emulated the Italians and cruised to their second straight win as well routing Bulgaria by three sets to none. To complete the programme of the second competition day, Turkey claimed their first victory in Zagreb edging hosts Croatia 3-1. The eventual winners and runners-up of the single round robin tournament taking place in the Croatian capital will qualify for next year’s World Champs in Egypt – Russia are already qualified for they top the current FIVB ranking in this age group. 

Italy vs. Slovenia 3-1 (17-25, 28-26, 25-20, 25-10)

Team Slovenia caught a flying start as they had done in Wednesday’s matchup with Bulgaria. They could rely on a solid reception and did not have any major problems to attack and score as their setter Uroš Planinšić made good use of all players on court. At some point Slovenia piled up a lead of as many as 11 points and easily won the opening set 25-17.

However, the course of the match changed in the second set where Italy showed they could play a lot better. Opposite Sebastiano Milan – who eventually top scored with 18 points – was evidently the most valuable addition to the Italian starting six and he delivered a superb performance from the start to the end of the second frame. Italy put a lot of pressure on Slovenia with their serve so that their opponent’s efficiency in attack immediately went down. Italy’s block worked fine too but Slovenia fought back and had a set ball, which they failed to cash, as Italy scored three points in a row to level the match (28-26).

Setter Riccardo Sbertoli – who amassed seven points in the end – put pressure on Slovenia with his serve also in the third set and distributed with accuracy and efficiency among his spikers and middle blockers. Slovenia could not keep the Italian pace and the ‘Azzurrini’ deservedly claimed the third set 25-20. The fourth one was some kind of training for the Italians who did not find any more resistance from the Slovenian side of the court (25-10). Even Slovenia’s top scorers Tonček Stern and Jure Okroglić (16 and 14 points, respectively) could not pose a real threat to the Italian machine.

Italy setter Riccardo Sbertoli said: “We did not start in the best way whilst Slovenia came in and showed a very good attitude. We started pretty bad and our approach to the match was not the one we should have displayed. We came back strong in the second set and finally won this match. We are happy and this victory is another boost of energy for our team.”

Slovenia second best scorer Jure Okroglić commented: “We played very good in the first set but after that we did not capitalise on the opportunity we had to claim the second as well, and this was the key moment of the match, in my opinion. After that we just kind of stopped playing. However, tomorrow is a new day and we will focus on the next match.”

Poland vs. Bulgaria 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-14)

After losing their first match in the tournament to Slovenia on Wednesday and suffering another big blow following the injury sustained by their star player and team captain Velizar Chernokozhev, Bulgaria were confronted with another demanding challenge on Thursday as they had to play pre-favourite Poland – the White-and-Reds had started their campaign in Zagreb with a compelling 3-0 win over hosts Croatia.

Poland set the tempo of the match right from the start even though Bulgaria put on a fight to keep their pace. However, the experience and technical skills of the Poles made the difference – this applies especially to their serve and defence – resulting in a comfortable 25-18 win in the first set.

Both teams pushed hard at the beginning of the second set with Poland leading the way 8-6 at the first technical time-out. Poland continued to play with impressive consistency and Artur Szalpuk was especially very effective – he top scored in the end with 11 points – whilst Bulgaria made a way too many errors. Their reception and attack were far from being optimal and Poland won the second set at a canter as well. The third one was even more one-sided with Poland looking unchallenged all the way through to a well-deserved 3-0 win.

Poland team captain Aleksander Sliwka commented: “I think Italy and Slovenia have very strong teams and Turkey can be dangerous as well. This tournament is very important for us and we are preparing as carefully as possible for each opponent, taking it one match at a time. Our coach made a lot of substitutions today so that we do not get too tired. It is extremely important to win tomorrow’s match with Italy in order to make another step towards our qualification for the World Championship.”

Bulgaria team captain Velizar Chernokozhev said: “Poland is a very good team and their block and attack worked really well today. After yesterday’s loss it was tough to play this game. We started each set in a good way but we could not keep the same pace through to the end.”

Turkey vs. Croatia 3-1 (25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 25-14)

The home team started out in a promising way fighting for every ball and making almost no mistakes up to the first technical time-out of the opening set. At this stage, Turkey Ogulcan Yatgin went to serve and secured five points in a row for his team. As his receivers were struggling to deliver some good passing, Croatia setter Nikola Ščerbakov found it very difficult to provide his spikers with an opportunity to score. Croatia stabilised their game again and got closer at 22-20 for Turkey but the hosts failed to make up for this gap with the set eventually going to the visiting team 25-21.

Turkey set the pace from start to end in the second set whilst Croatia went through ups and downs. The hosts lacked the necessary focus and quality to put on fight against a team as strong as Turkey. Croatia struggled especially in defence and even though Turkey’s efficiency in attack decreased at some point, the final stages of the set were fully controlled by the visitors.

In the third set Croatia coach Marin Ivanić decided to replace opposite Petar Dirlić with Marko Sedlaček, with Dirlić moved to the position of middle blocker. This move confused the Turkish team and changed the rhythm in the best way for Croatia. After trailing 13-16 at the second technical time-out, Croatia stepped up their efforts and closed in at 20-20 with the help of Sedlacek and Kruno Nikačević. Turkey made some defence errors and after another tie at 22-all contributed by a block of Sedlaček, Turkey spiked out of bounds and Croatia won the set to stay alive in the match.

However, Croatia made a number of mistakes in the early stages of the fourth set and quickly trailed 3-8. The hosts could not find any solutions to their problems as Turkey kept on extending their lead before they finished it all off at 25-14 to seal their 3-1 win. Turkey team captain Yigit Gülmezoglu top scored in the match with 13 points – Dirlić paced Croatia in their losing effort with 11.

Turkey coach Umut Cakir commented: “We tried to play better than yesterday, because yesterday we really had a bad day. We played good for the first two sets but lost focus and concentration in the third one. We did not play any friendly matches before this tournament, so we expect and want to get better and better with each day and match.”

Croatia team captain Filip Šestan said: “We started the match in a good way and we put on a fight, especially in the third set where we showed we can be a good opponent even for a strong Turkish team. After making some changes to our starting six, we eventually won the third set. We are sorry and disappointed for how things went in the fourth one where we did not play at our level.”

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the matches

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