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01/06/2017 22:18
Volleyball powerhouses with immaculate record after second day of World Champs qualifiers
2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championship - Women

Luxembourg, June 1, 2017. Russia and Greece (Pool A), Turkey and Bulgaria (Pool C), Italy and Belgium (Pool D), Azerbaijan and The Netherlands (Pool E) as well as Germany and Portugal (Pool F) have a perfect record of two wins in as many matches following completion of the second competition day in the European qualifiers to the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Japan 2018. The eventual winners of the five tournaments taking place this week will join Serbia (who finished first in Pool B last week) to start composing the European contingent for next year’s Worlds. This will also include the winners and runners-up from the third round qualifier scheduled for mid-August featuring the five second-placed teams from the tournaments coming to an end on Sunday, June 4 plus the Czech Republic, who finished second in Pool B. 

Pool A in Osijek (CRO)

Austria vs. Hungary

The second competition day at Gradski Vrt sports hall in Osijek started with a dramatic match where Austria eventually beat their neighbours from Hungary 3-2 (27-29, 25-22, 25-18, 11-25, 15-12). Austria coach Svetlana Ilic was visibly happy with the result and the victory. “We have a completely new team, so it is challenging and heavy to play five sets for these young girls but the eventual victory is a really big thing for us. We are especially proud of this victory since coming here we were regarded as the outsiders in this tournament.” “What to say after this kind of match? We somehow gave it away to Austria and provided them with a nice present,” said Hungary head coach Alberto Salamoni.

Russia vs. Georgia

Reigning European champions Russia needed only 59 minutes of play to rout Georgia 3-0 (25-8, 25-6, 25-13). Iuliia Kutiukova and Irina Zariazhko-Koroleva were the best players for the Russian powerhouse in this match. Georgia coach Paata Ulumbelashvili commented: “We know that Russia have the best team in these qualifications and are one of the top teams in the world, so it is always difficult to play such an opponent, and this you can clearly see from the final result.”

Croatia vs. Greece

The home fans did not have anything to celebrate on Thursday night as Greece beat hosts Croatia 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-18). The crowd was expecting a big victory from Croatia but this did not happen. “We had an opportunity and we did not use it, but this is not the end of the world. We have to remain concentrated and focus on tomorrow’s match,” said home star Ana Grbac. “I did not expect such an easy victory. We played the best we could and I think this has been the team’s best performance since I have been their coach,” said the leader of Greece, Georgios Rousis.

Pool C in Sofia (BUL)

Switzerland vs. Turkey

Turkey confirmed their status of ‘hot’ candidate for first place in Pool C after claiming their second 3-0 victory in as many matches they have contested so far in Sofia, this time dispatching Switzerland in 63 minutes of play (25-16, 25-11, 25-17).

Giovanni Guidetti, coach of Turkey: “We did our job. I saw some good things from my team and some bad ones, which we have to analyse later today. Our opponent played better than Kosovo did yesterday. I think that the level of the opposition is getting higher with each match and this is good for us, because I expect to be in perfect condition for our ‘final’ matchup against Bulgaria. Romania is a good team with good attackers and very good middle-blockers, so tomorrow we will have to play better than we did today.”

Naz Aydemir Akyol, player of Turkey: “It was not an easy game for sure. Switzerland was a better opponent than Kosovo, but the level of our opponents is getting higher with each day and we know that our strongest opponents are still on our way, so we used these first two matches to develop the right chemistry within the team because we didn’t have much time to prepare for this tournament. We need to improve many things because we want to qualify for the World Championship in Japan by finishing first in this pool.”

Timothy Lippuner, coach of Switzerland: “I am very satisfied with the early stages of the match. Today we were ready to take up the challenge. Unfortunately, in the second set we struggled but we played well in the third one, so I am proud of the spirit shown by the team. We were better in reception, attack and service, so we made some progress from yesterday.”  

Laura Kuenzler, captain of Switzerland: “Yesterday we had a lot of problems in reception but today we managed to do our best in this aspect of the game. This gave us the opportunity to attack and serve well and I am happy with the progress we could see compared to yesterday’s game with Bulgaria.”

Montenegro vs. Kosovo

Later in the afternoon, Montenegro claimed the Balkan derby with Kosovo 3-0 (25-20, 25-7, 25-5) in a match which was only the second ever for Kosovo’s senior women’s national team on the international stage.

Dragan Nesic, coach of Montenegro: “For our team every victory is important. It does not depend on which team we play, we must be happy with any good results. We were not enough concentrated in the opening set but in the next two we improved our performance. For sure we are not the best team here, but we are not the weakest opponent. Officially, this is the first victory for us this season. I congratulate my team and of course all respect for Kosovo.”

Ksenija Ivanovic, player of Montenegro: “It was a good match for us, we were the better team today and I hope this positive trend to continue in the same way in the coming days. Yesterday we lost to Romania and so it was important to win today.”

Lorik Ilazi, coach of Kosovo: “In the first set we started really well. We played tactically very good, and my players followed the game plan we had agreed upon. Our reception was stable and as a result, the first set was a close call. This was our goal before the match; in the following sets I made some substitutions, since it is important that all players feel the rhythm of the game and gain experience from international competition. Of course, congratulations to Montenegro. They deserved the victory.”

Anyla Kryeziu, player of Kosovo: “We are a really young team and this is our first big international tournament. Maybe emotions caught us during the matches we have played so far and we didn’t manage to show our best level. We must keep working hard.”

Romania vs. Bulgaria

Bulgaria emulated Turkey to claim their second 3-0 victory in as many matches in Pool C as they beat their neighbours from Romania after 77 minutes of play (25-23, 25-15, 25-21). The hosts started the match really well and took a massive lead (21-14) in the first set, before Dobriana Rabadzhieva suffered an injury. Romania managed to use this setback to their advantage and came back in the set; however, despite these problems, Bulgaria came out on top in the end (25-23). In the second set Bulgaria played really well in all aspects of the game and cruised to a comprehensive 25-15 win. In the third set, Romania took an early six-point advantage at 8-2, but Bulgaria came back strong to shape up a 3-0 victory (25-21).  

Elitsa Vasileva, captain of Bulgaria: “Obviously the match today was more difficult than yesterday’s game against Switzerland. We had some problems during the match, especially to deal with their serve in the third set but we managed to fix them and eventually won in three sets.”

Hristina Ruseva, player of Bulgaria: “Romania play much better than Switzerland and the match was at some point quite challenging. I’m happy that we managed to remain focused also in the most critical moments. Our biggest opponent in Pool C is Turkey. We are preparing for this match and I think today was a good test for this much anticipated game, especially from a psychological standpoint.”

Adriana Vilcu, player of Romania: “We knew that Bulgaria have a strong team and they are the favourites to win this tournament, but we did our best today. It’s easy to see that they are stronger especially in the key moments of the match. Tomorrow we have another difficult match against Turkey and we hope to do our best.”

Pool D in Kortrijk (BEL)

Even though hosts Belgium and Italy lived up to their status of pre-favourites and cruised to 3-0 victories in their respective matches with Spain and Belarus, these games were closely-fought and surprised were not too far away. “After the first set, where the Italian star player Paola Egonu successfully finished 80% of her attempts, our block started working better and better,” explained Belarus coach Aliaksandr Klimovich after the match. Anastasiya Harelik is confident that Belarus can achieve even more: “If you give us some more time to practice, we can certainly reach a higher level. Of course, today every player wanted to be excellent against a team as strong as Italy. We were all very motivated,” she said after Italy emerged victorious 3-0 (25-12, 26-24, 25-22).
Italy coach Davide Mazzanti was not so pleased with the performance of his team. “After a very good first set, we had problems with their variety of serves, their good defence and their well-performing counterattacks. On Sunday against Belgium I want my players to play with a lot more aggressiveness. We can definitely play better than we did today.”

The Yellow Tigers – supported by a lot of spectators wearing a yellow hat – had problems with the good defence of their opponents for one set, but after that Lise Van Hecke, Freya Aelbrecht, captain Charlotte Leys and Laura Heyrman were too strong in the remainder of the match (3-0; 25-21, 25-18, 25-14). “We know the Belgians very well because we practiced together a few times,” explained Spanish coach Pascual Saurin. “However, we could only play two friendly matches while preparing for this tournament. So, our aim is to make some progress with each match, while the Belgians want to qualify to the World Championship.”

In the last match of the day in Kortrijk, Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Latvia 3-1 (25-11, 25-21, 25-27, 25-12).

Pool E in Baku (AZE)

Norway vs. Ukraine

On Thursday Ukraine bounced back from their loss to Azerbaijan the day before to rally to a 3-1 victory (25-21, 22-25, 25-14, 25-17) in their matchup with Norway. Ukraine’s star player Olesia Rykhliuk had to follow the game from the side-lines after catching a gold. Despite this, Ukraine stormed to an early 8-3 lead before Norway fought back to edge ahead at 14-13. Ukraine, however, responded in the best way to win the first set 25-21. Norway caused a little sensation by taking the second set after rallying to an impressive 20-14 lead, before producing a 25-22 final score. However, Ukraine regrouped to win set three and four and eventually take three points from this game. Hilde Elvebakk from Norway was the best scorer of the match with 20 points.
“I am absolutely pleased with my team. We played really well against an opponent as strong as Ukraine. My players showed very dynamic Volleyball and I can say that we are improving our game with each match. I hope we will continue in the same way for the remainder of the tournament,” said the head coach of Norway, Odd Atle Ekerhovd.  

Azerbaijan vs. Denmark

Azerbaijan made it three wins in as many matches so far after cruising to a comprehensive 3-0 (25-12, 25-14, 25-14) victory in their matchup with Denmark. Their head coach Faig Garayev decided to make some changes to the starting six, with Natalya Mammadova enjoying some rest and Jana Kulan taking a lot of responsibility in attack. Kulan eventually finished the match with nine points, as Yelyzaveta Samadova scored 11 times. Polina Rahimova was on a class of her own as she registered 29 points.
“We have good players also among our substitutes and the coaching staff decided to give an opportunity to every player on the team, so that they all can feel the rhythm of the game. Now we need to step up and prepare as good as we can for the next matches with Israel and the Netherlands,” said Rahimova.

Israel vs. The Netherlands

The Netherlands also claimed their third straight victory in Baku but they dropped one set in their matchup with Israel (25-19, 25-11, 22-25, 25-15). The Oranjes achieved this result through a combination of monster blocks, strong serves and precise spikes. After easily routing Norway and Denmark earlier in the tournament, the Netherlands had to play an opponent of a higher calibre. Robin de Kruijf did some good work at the net with her blocks as Celeste Plak spiked many times to help Holland claim a 2-0 lead in the match. Israel, however, did not accept an easy loss and they stormed to a 15-12 lead in the third set; though the Netherlands responded by scoring three times in a row, and even edged ahead at 17-16, Israel put up a fight and eventually had the upper hand at 25-22. However, after this setback, the Oranjes came back strong in set four to take three points from this game and can now prepare for the all-deciding matches against Ukraine and Azerbaijan coming up on Friday and Saturday.

Pool F in Viana do Castelo (POR)

France vs. Slovenia

Looking determined to take their first points in the competition after their 0-3 heavy loss to Germany on Wednesday, Slovenia started the match quite aggressively and kept the pressure high through to the end (25-17, 25-15, 25-16). They just didn’t allow the French to breathe and were able to hold on to their early leads in each of the three sets, even though the second one was a lot more closely contested at least at the beginning. In the end, Slovenia coach, Italian-born Alessandro Chiappini said: “We are still in the race, thank God! Today the team played more relaxed, and compared to yesterday’s match we showed what we are capable of and I am very pleased with what I saw. After the defeat against Germany we deserved one more chance, since we want to fight for the qualification to the World Championship.”

Portugal vs. Finland

Portugal caught a slow start to the match but supported by their fans, the hosts were able to win the first set and almost completed an epic comeback in the second one, with the Portuguese setter’s experience being a key factor and with Finland having difficulties to deal with it. The following set saw Portugal making a few more errors and the visitors took full advantage of this to take the lead in the match. However, Portugal could capitalise on an early advantage they had in the fourth set to extend the match to a tiebreak and eventually claim their second victory on home soil in as many matches (3-2; 25-23, 27-29, 17-25, 25-22, 15-12). Julia Kavalenka from Portugal was the best scorer of the match with 31 points, one more than Finland’s Piia Korhonen. Antonio Guerra, Portugal’s coach said: “Our team is very competitive and it is growing. Tomorrow we will face the favourite team from Germany. However, we should remember that sometimes you just need to change a little thing to the most perfect machines to disrupt their functioning.”

Estonia vs. Germany

In the last match of the day Germany confirmed their position as one of the favourites in the pool winning once again by 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-20), this time against Estonia. Portugal and Slovenia will probably be the biggest obstacles in the Germans’ path towards the World Championships in Japan. Maren Brinker, Germany’s captain is aware of that fact “the biggest difficulty is that all are waiting to see our team easily winning all our matches, so our focus has to be always at maximum level. Portugal played two very emotive matches and plays with the public mostly on their side, what grants them extra strength. We will have to put on the court all our power to add another victory.”

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the matches

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