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30/06/2017 11:45
Finland to contest most important match in seven years in #EuroLeagueW semis
2017 CEV Volleyball European League - Women

Helsinki, Finland, June 30, 2017. Finland and Slovakia will be playing each other once again on Sunday in Helsinki in the second round of the 2017 CEV Volleyball European League – Women semis after the Finns claimed a hard-fought 3-2 away victory on Wednesday in Poprad. Rookies Finland have swept seven matches in a row in their maiden appearance in the competition but they dropped two sets in their first game with Slovakia – the first ‘setback’ since they had not conceded any sets to their opponents in their six matches in Pool A.

The Finns have been together for almost two months since the start of the national team season and this has helped improve the chemistry within the team. “Everything is just getting better and better,” says team captain Laura Pihlajamäki. “We have spent so much time together this summer but this is not bad at all. We have been travelling a lot, sometimes we felt some discomfort because of the long journeys and for not sleeping that much, but everything is fine again,” she adds only a few hours after coming back home from the trip to Slovakia.

There is a lot of attention towards the team and their great run in the European League, especially since the men have finished their campaign in this year’s World League and are currently having a short break. “Of course we have realised that there is much more attention from the media than we have ever had,” the captain admits. “However, this feels great and I think we deserve this kind of attention because of our performances so far. If you do well, you always get something back; that is the way it works.”

Pihlajamäki is by far the most experienced player on the roster with 82 caps for the Finnish national team. However, the upcoming match with Slovakia is one of the highlights in her career. “The last time we played such an important game was seven years ago when we played France in the last round of European Championship qualifications in Sélestat and Salo. Of course, all of the matches I have played so far are important too, but this one with Slovakia is kind of special,” the 26-year-old player says.

On the other hand, Slovakia coach Marek Rojko still believes in his team’s chances of qualifying to the finals. “We lost the first match at home but I think we still can make it through to the finals. Since they only won at the tiebreak in Poprad, Finland have to beat us at home too but we will be fighting as much as we can in Helsinki. The first match was a close one and we lost it because of little details and because Finland won most of the long rallies. We put pressure on them with our service and we have to do so in the re-match as well if we want to stay alive in this competition. Finland have a very good team and they are full of positive energy and confidence because they are on a winning streak, but we will do our best.”

Slovakia libero Dominika Valachova played a great game in Poprad and she promises she will be doing just the same in Helsinki. “We have nothing to lose and therefore we will try and play our best, hoping that we can at least play a golden set in Helsinki. They played really well in Poprad, but we should have won that match, especially after leading 2-1. Let us see what happens on Sunday, but we will fight for sure.”

Middle blocker Nina Herelova was Slovakia’s best scorer in Poprad with 20 points and she hopes that their season will not finish on Sunday. “I think we were the better team on Wednesday but Finland fought more for every rally and played with more heart. We have had a few days to regroup before travelling to Finland and I hope Sunday’s match will not be the last one for us this season.”

Slovakia and Finland have played each other seven times in history, with Slovakia leading the way with five wins and two losses, including the one from Wednesday in Poprad. The re-match will take place on Sunday in Helsinki starting at 17:00 local time with live streaming available at as well as at YLE TV2. Spain and Ukraine are contesting the other semi-final, with Ukraine having won the first matchup 3-1 on Wednesday in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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