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08/01/2020 23:59
Bulgaria v Germany and Slovenia v France in Berlin semifinal match-ups
CEV Tokyo Volleyball European Qualification 2020 - Men

Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2020.  Bulgaria vs. Germany and Slovenia vs. France are the two semifinal match-ups that emerged on the last competition day of the pool stage in Europe’s men’s Olympic qualification tournament. In Pool B, Bulgaria extended their winning streak to three and topped the final standings after a five-set victory over reigning European champions Serbia. Despite losing in the tie-breaker to the Netherlands, France finished their campaign as pool runners-up. In the last match of Pool B, Slovenia defeated Czech Republic in four sets to top the standings unbeaten and leave hosts Germany in second. The race for the single available Tokyo 2020 ticket in Berlin continues with the two semifinals on Thursday.

Pool B: Serbia vs. Bulgaria 2-3 (21-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 13-15)

Bulgaria became the first team to claim a semifinal spot from Pool B. They did so after winning two sets on the way to a 3-2 (25-21, 24-26, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13) victory over Serbia to top the standings undefeated. The final result put the European champions out of contention for a spot in the semis and a ticket to the Olympics as well after France took the one set they needed from their matchup with the Netherlands later in the evening.

To Bulgaria’s power in serving, spiking and blocking, Serbia responded with Uros Kovacevic’s clever ways of sneaking the ball past the opponents’ blockers. The first set went quite level through 12-12, after which the Serbian defence could no longer cope with the blistering hits from Bulgarian opposite Tsvetan Sokolov (pictured above) as he led his teammates to a 25-21 win. The second set offered a tremendous battle, with frequent changes in the lead. Sokolov kept hammering away, but Kovacevic continued to faultlessly outwit the Bulgarian blockers with his virtuoso moves in offence. One of those finally put an end to the set at 26-24 Serbia’s way. Bulgaria quickly recovered from a 7-2 Serbian lead in the third set and after 19-19 took control of the scoreboard. Todor Skrimov led the way with seven points, but it was Aleks Grozdanov’s spike through the middle that nailed the winning point for 25-22 and set the Bulgarian celebrations off. With the semifinal pass in his pocket, coach Silvano Prandi changed all seven athletes on his squad. Obviously having no faith in the Netherlands surprising France later in the evening, coach Slobodan Kovac also benched some of his key players. Serbia took the fourth set by 25-20, but in the tie-breaker the Bulgarians had the upper hand. With the Penchev brothers (Rozalin and Nikolay) at the core of a 6-2 run, they mastered a turnaround from 9-11 to 15-13 to win the match. Tsvetan Sokolov scored 20 times during the first three sets, enough to top the chart of the match.

Pool A: Slovenia vs. Czech Republic 3-1 (25-12, 28-26, 19-25, 28-26)

Slovenia finished their Pool A campaign undefeated, topping the final standings after a 3-1 (25-12, 28-26, 19-25, 28-26) win over Czech Republic on the way to Thursday’s semifinals. The EuroVolley runners-up entered the match in full force and completely dominated the first set on the way to a 25-12 landslide. Coach Alberto Giuliani made several changes to his squad for the start of the second set. Slovenia quickly recovered from an early four-point deficit and soon themselves gained a four-point lead. It was Czech Republic’s turn to catch up, which they did at 20-20 to prompt an interesting ending. The set went into overtime, the Slovenes denied three Czech set points before Mitja Gasparini aced for a set point of their own and Ziga Stern converted it to a 28-26 win with a powerful spike. With Petr Michalek spearheading the offence, the Czechs were well in control of the third set. Greatly reducing the number of unforced errors, they made their way to a 25-19 win. Coming in as a sub, Toncek Stern took charge of the Slovenian offence in the fourth set, nicely assisted by 17-year-old newcomer, outside spiker Rok Mozic, enough to make up for the improved blocking effort of the Czechs. Similar to the second set, Slovenia denied three set points for the Czechs before Toncek Stern finally closed the match at 28-26 with a successful attack. Czech Republic’s Patrik Indra was the best scorer of the game with 19 points to his name. Jan Kozamernik scored 15 times for the winners.

Pool B: France vs. The Netherlands 2-3 (25-21, 25-20, 22-25, 19-25, 11-15)

France had to make sure they finish pool runners-up by winning at least one set in their last Pool B match, against the Netherlands, and so they did. They took the first two before the opponents found the way back to a 3-2 (21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-19, 15-11) win, their first (and last) of this continental Olympic qualifier. At 19-17 France’s way was the first time the gap exceeded one point in the first set. The French did not dissipate their advantage and pushed further through Benjamin Toniutti’s ace, which closed the set at 25-21. At this point, Laurent Tillie’s squad was safe for the semis. Still they were well in control throughout the second set and won it by 25-20 despite opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz’s 11 points for the Dutch team. Coach Laurent Tillie changed the entire starting line-up for the next sets. Roberto Piazza also made changes to his squad, but the Netherlands managed to level the match after 25-22 and 25-19 set wins. They proved better in the tie-breaker as well, taking control of the scoreboard all the way through Wouter ter Maat’s hit that closed the match at 15-11. Abdel-Aziz skipped the last three sets, but the 16 points he made in the first two placed him on top of the scorers’ chart.

For further information, visit the official event website

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