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Slovenia, Italy and Poland start Men’s U23 World Championship qualifier in style

 
Zagreb, Croatia, July 27, 2016 - On Wednesday Slovenia opened the programme of the European qualification tournament for next year’s FIVB U23 Men’s Volleyball World Championship by cruising to a comprehensive 3-0 victory (25-20, 25-16, 26-24) over Bulgaria.

Later in the afternoon Italy also cruised to a 3-0 win in their matchup with Turkey (25-21, 25-17, 26-24); to complete the schedule of the first competition day in Zagreb pre-favourites Poland defeated hosts Croatia 3-0 (25-21, 25-11, 25-20). The eventual winners and runners-up of the single round robin tournament will qualify for next year’s World Championship in Egypt – Russia are already qualified as they top the current FIVB ranking in this age-group.

Slovenia v Bulgaria 3-0 (25-20, 25-16, 26-24)

Bulgaria and Slovenia opened the tournament in Zagreb and after a close race in the early stages of the opening set, Slovenia edged ahead at the first technical time-out (8-7). After the break, Slovenia scored three points in a row and Bulgaria made a succession of errors resulting in a commanding 16-11 lead for Slovenia. The Bulgarian coach attempted to change the course of the game with substitutions, but Slovenia remained focused through to the end (25-20).

Slovenia also set the pace of the game in the second set, leading the way with a massive 9-2. But after Bulgaria coach Miroslav Zhivkov decided to opt for his second setter Konstantin Nechev, things started working a lot better for his team. Bulgaria closed in at 13-16 but after the break for the second technical time-out, Slovenia resumed their forward march resulting in a compelling 25-16 win.

Bulgaria rising star and team captain Velizar Chernokozhev suffered an injury in the third set but his team did not stop putting on a fight – the teams played point for point until Slovenia finished it all off at 26-24.

Tonček Stern and Jan Kozamernik were the top scorers for Slovenia with 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Chernokozhev paced Bulgaria with nine despite his injury.

Bulgaria coach Miroslav Zhivkov said: “My team did not play good in reception, and we also made many unforced errors in attack. We started very nervous; we have to forget this match and re-start from scratch tomorrow.”

Slovenia coach Iztok Ksela said: “To tell you the truth we didn’t know what to expect from this match. We didn’t have a long preparation phase for this tournament and it was hard to get ready. We served well and our block worked fine as well; our reception was good and this resulted in good opportunities for us to attack and score. I think that the attitude shown by my players was the key to today’s success.”

Italy v Turkey 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 26-24)

Turkey and Italy looked extremely determined to start their campaign in style and to emulate Slovenia with Italy taking the lead right from the start, though their advantage was a small one – one or two points. Italy continued to push in attack and this eventually resulted in a 25-21 win in the first set.

Italy started the second set with a display of fine reception and this provided them with the opportunity to score with consistency. Their advantage grew bigger and bigger, with the score standing at 16-9 at the second technical time-out. Turkey attempted a comeback by putting more and more pressure on their opponents with the help of their star player Yigit Gülmezoglu, but it was too late to close the gap.

Italy began the third set slowly. Turkey claimed a four, five-point lead, which they kept through to the second technical time-out (16-12). At this stage Italy woke up and playing with a lot of focus and determination closed in mainly thanks to their top scorer Andrea Argenta (16 points in the end). Turkey had a set ball but a series of mistakes by the young Turks resulted in Italy closing it out 26-24 to seal their 3-0 win.

Italy coach Michele Totire commented: “Turkey are a good team and I did not expect to win this match 3-0. The first match of such a tournament is always difficult, it is summer and really hot, so the players needed some time to settle and find their rhythm. I am confident that we will get better and better with each match.”

Turkey team captain and best scorer Yigit Gülmezoglu (11 points): “My team could have played better and won this match. The main reason for this weak performance is that we did not have any friendly matches before this tournament. We will move on and I hope that we can stay in the race for first place in this tournament, but it is going to be difficult after we lost this one.”

Poland v Croatia 3-0 (25-21, 25-11, 25-20)

Many experts see Poland as the favourites to claim first place in this tournament as the team consists of what can be described as a ‘golden generation’ with expectations high back home.

The young players in white and red shirts started their campaign in the best way setting the tempo of the match from the early stages of the opening set. They showed their quality and supremacy in all aspects. Croatia tried their best to keep their pace, but every time the hosts got closer Poland scored a few more points to break away time and again. Both teams made service errors but Poland made up for this through their good reception – something Croatia could not rely on. Petar Dirlic – who top-scored for the home side with 11 points – was the hosts' main weapon, but a number of errors towards the end of the set paved the way with gold for Poland (25-21).

The second set was one-sided and dominated by Poland with the White-and-Reds successfully finalising 93 per cent of their attacks. Croatia improved their reception but their spikers failed to break through the Polish block, this resulting in a massive 25-11 set win for Poland. Poland's standout player and team captain Aleksander Sliwka – who top-scored in the match with 13 points – remained focused all the way through to the end despite such comfortable lead.

The course of the match did not change in the third set either – and after the first technical time-out the Croatian lost their rhythm. Their coach Marin Ivanic tried to respond with substitutions, but could not disrupt Team Poland's plans as they claimed their first win in the tournament.

Poland coach Wojciech Serafin commented: “I have prepared my team to be ready for each match and this is the only way to be successful and come out on top by the time this tournament comes to an end. Now we have to get ready for tomorrow’s match with Bulgaria, which is our next goal and the most important task to focus on at the moment.”

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