Brazil and Bulgaria victoriously open competition in Pool A, winning respectively against Puerto Rico and Egypt. In Pool B The Netherlands narrowly escape defeat against Korea, while USA beat Belgium in 4 sets. In Pool C Australia remains without solution for Atanasijević’s service bombs, while Italy run over Cameroon. In Pool D France overcome Slovenia and Poland record an easy victory against Tunisia. In Pool E Iran recover from knockdown against Cuba, and clear victory of Russia against Mexico. In Pool F an inspired Conte leads Argentina to win over Canada, while Finland was powerless in front of the hosts China.
Brazil did not play a good game, but recorded a clear victory in straing sets (25:23, 25:19, 25:19) in Pool A opener of the FIVB Volleyball International Qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in Varna, Bulgaria.
Brazil make 22 errors in total vs. Puerto Rico’s 14, especially in the reception, in the first and the third set but the rivals could not take, at least, one of them. Brazil’s head coach Renan Dal Zotto was not satisfied how his team played in the 3rd set and made 3 changes in the middle of it, introducing Alan, Maique and Cachopa from the bench instead of Maurício Borges, Thales and Bruninho. Brazil kept the perfect record against Puerto Rico at major world level tournaments (6-0). Ricardo Lucarelli scored 15 points, including 5 winning blocks, for the winning side, while Pablo Guzmán made 11 points in Puerto Rico.
Brazil captain Bruno Rezende: “This first game was very important to us. We really respect the team of Puerto Rico. We didn’t know very much about their squad and that’s why we were kind of surprised in the first set. We played a bit nervously and we had a lot of difficulties to block and defend. We started serving better in the second set and managed to dominate till the end of the match. At the end the most important thing is the win. Now it’s time to rest for a while and to prepare for our next game against Egypt.”
Brazil player Ricardo Lucarelli: “Every beginning of a tournament is hard. The lack of information for the team of Puerto Rico made the start even harder and made us a little bit stressed during the game. We had many up and downs in the match but at the end we won in straight sets which was very important. Tomorrow against Egypt we have to increase our level of communication on the court.”
Puerto Rico coach Oswald Antonetti: “We came in this tournament with a free mentality. I think we played well against such a tough opponent. Now after the match we have great feelings about playing good tomorrow too. We keep improve our performance match by match.”
Puerto Rico captain Maurice Torres: “Today we showed that we can compete against a team like Brazil. Maybe a lot of people didn’t expect it. I think we had moments we played very well and some others we were not focused enough for example at the end of the first set. We lost a couple of very important points. I think we keep getting better as a team and we show that we can perform in a high level. Tomorrow we face Bulgaria and we have to play even harder than today. It is going to be tough game because it is not only a very strong team but they will have the supportof their home crowd.”
On the same Pool, Bulgaria wrote down a valuable victory over Egypt (3-1). Tsvetan Sokolov was the best scorer for the hosts with 28 points, while Ahmed Shafik tallied 16 for Egypt.
Silvano Prandi, Bulgaria head coach: “We made a very significant step in the tournament. It was difficult but I am happy that we managed to win. Every upcoming match is the most important match and I expect that we will improve our performance game by game. I am satisfied with the way we controlled the match after we lost the third set. At the end I would like to say a big thank you to our fans. They were amazing again!”
Tsvetan Sokolov, Bulgaria player: “It looked like we didn’t have an opponent in the first set. The team of Egypt made many mistakes and on the other hand we performed almost perfectly. But something completely changed after that. They started to play better and better, to receive, to attack and counterattack and we just faced a different team. It was really hard but we achieved a very important win at the end.”
Guido Vermeulen, Egypt coach: “We started the first set a little bit nervous and we made many mistakes. After that in the second one we improved our game and we just missed our chance to tie. Bulgaria proved that they are the better team but I am proud of my boys because they fought hard tonight and made it difficult for Bulgaria.”
Atia Rashad, Egypt captain: “It was good start for us. Our team can learn a lot from this match. We made some changes in our squad and it is a good experience for all the new players to participate in such a high level tournament. We are looking forward our next game against the Olympic Champions from Brazil. We will try to play better and to avoid the errors we made today. We don’t want to play under pressure. We are here to have fun and enjoy every rally on the court.”
In Pool B the hosts of The Netherlands narrowly escaped a defeat against South Korea in a match lasted five sets (23:25, 25:27, 26:24, 25:20, 15:12) and 2 hours and 48 minutes! The Netherlands saved face in front of own fans in Rotterdam. The Dutch side was 2 sets down and remained without its major star Nimir Abdel-Aziz, who got injured at the end of 3rd set and was replaced by Wouter ter Maat. Also, after being 2 sets behind rivals, the Netherlands head coach Roberto Piazza introduced 2 players from the bench: Maarten van Garderen and Robbert Andringa. Thijs ter Horst and Nimir Abdel-Aziz finished the match with 16 points each, with the latter making 5 winning blocks, like his teammate Fabian Plak. Park Chul-Woo scored 19 points for Korea.
Roberto Piazza, The Netherlands head coach: “It was a tough game, but you know when you’re playing an Asian team they will defend some amazing balls. Sometimes it wasn’t enough to attack really good one time, or second time. Mentality, I think we can grow up a lot in the court. Robbert Andringa helped us a lot in reception, Maarten van Garderen did amazing in attack and on serve. I am happy for them.”
Maarten van Garderen, The Netherlands player: “We must not think too much about what happened tonight. We just have to study why we didnt start well. I have to say, we didnt play so bad at all in the beginning. But our opponent made the best out of difficult situations. It was frustrating, because we never got in the flow. Personally, as a substitute, I tried to bring energy and belief into the court. I’m glad this turned out so well.”
Im Do Hun, Korea head coach: “In the first two sets we played really, really well. In the third, fourth and fifth set we were a little bit tired, also mentally. This is not good. Last week three of our players got injured, and that’s difficult to handle.”
Pool B favorites, the USA, recorded a 4-set victory over Belgium. They were more focused than rivals in the game overall, committing 10 unforced errors less against 21 of Belgium. Aaron Russell led his team to the victory with 17 points, while Tomas Rousseaux scored 12 points on the other side.
Micah Christenson, USA setter: “It was great, absolutely a tough match. Something we expected completely coming into this first match. Especially with Belgium, which is a great team. They’re really great at playing volleyball. Very skilled team. I’m really proud of the way we fought. How we handled adversity. We stayed steady throughout the match. They did some amazing plays in the third set. I don’t necessarily think we played our best, but we didn’t play bad. We didn’t give up. We expected a battle, I’m super excited about how we responded in de fourth. Tomorrow will be another tough match, we all saw today that they pushed Holland to five sets, that’s not an easy thing to do. They’re defending a lot. They’re not making a lot of errors, we have to our best on our side, to stay mentally strong. Not get frustrated with it.”
John Speraw, USA head coach USA: “I’m thrilled with the win. Each of these matches is intense, every team will play their best volleyball this summer. I feel like any win you can get is a great win. It also places additional pressure on us when we are the favourite. The opponents can come in and play free and loose. For us to play as well as we did tonight against a team that was coming in, fighting as hard as they did. Belgium fought really hard, even when they were down. I’m proud of the win. Tomorrow will be Korea, we don’t know that much about them, they don’t have that much video from the summer. They are playing with a bunch of guys from previous teams. We’ll go and play as hard as we can again.”
Brecht Van Kerckhove, Belgium head coach: “Everything worked for us in the first set until 20-20. Our reception was solid, our goal to control the strong services from Team USA turned out well. We were playing full of confidence and assertive. But after 20-20, we missed four side-outs in a row. We knew all of our players would have to reach their highest level today to beat USA, and that was not the case. We played solid in reception, but not strong enough in attack. We only focused on this match in our preparations but we will not give up right now. In sports everything is possible, and we will have to keep fighting for qualification in the upcoming two matches.”
Pieter Verhees, Belgium player: “I have the feeling we could have gotten more out of this match. We started out well, and on the moments we were in the flow, we could seriously play against the United States. But it’s hard to keep up this high level, especially since USA is serving so well. I think this was the key match for us this weekend. We have an Olympic dream, and we keep hoping. Tomorrow we will play with full focus against The Netherlands.”
In Pool C Serbia set off the FIVB Volleyball International Qualifier campaign on the right foot, recording tougher win than expected. They outpowered Australia in 4 sets of which the 4th one was a never-ending battle: 3-1 (26:28, 25:19, 25:19, 32:30). Serbia had a chance to open a duel with the lead in sets of 1-0 but failed to convert 3 set points. Nikola Grbic’s team needed 6 match points in the 4th set to close the game. Aleksandar Atanasijević made a fantastic serving display, scoring 8 aces and finishing the match with 35 points and 65.8% attack, while Luke Smith (3 aces) and Paul Carroll were the top scorers for Australia with 17 points each. Trent O’Dea made 5 winning blocks. —PHOTOGALLERY OF THE MATCH—
Nikola Grbic, Serbia head coach: “I would rather have started with a hard victory rather than a smooth one. I know it’s easy to say after the match but it is not a predictable conclusion, and the results of these qualifiers are telling us the difficulties to respect the prediction. The lower-ranked teams play well because they have nothing to lose. It’s important to have won and done it from three points, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, I’m happy with how we came out of it.”
Nikola Jovovic, Serbia setter: “No matter how we win, the important thing is that we did. It was not easy here today with this heat. Tomorrow with Cameroon I think it will be a different race. Now we go on with the other matches. I’m happy after this victory because today we have understood that without pushing we cannot win easily against anyone.”
Mark Lebedew, Australia head coach: “In truth Serbia has not played at the top of its level, except for Atanasijevic. We could have won, we had the power to win, I am very disappointed for the final result. Now we have to regenerate and think about the next challenge, with the Italians. It will be very difficult, but we are here and we will play it.”
Paul Carroll, Australia captain: “When we started the competition what worried us mostly were the conditions because it is very hot and the Olympics are at stake. We didn’t care so much about the opponent but on how we could do well and we did it. Maybe we didn’t believe really to win even though in two sets we really gave everything. If there was another one who knows?”
As it was predicted, the hosts of Italy overhelmed Cameroon without having difficulties whatsoever, giving a nice present to their setter Simone Giannelli, in his birthday-day. A funny thing happened during warm-up when one of the players of Cameroon had 2 different numbers on his jersey: Cédric Bitouna wore the number 9 in front and number 6 on the back so the referee had to intervene! Also, 7 players of Cameroon national team arrived in Italy this morning, only several hours prior to the, waiting for the issues with the national federation to be resolved. Osmany Juantorena was the top scorer for Italy with 13 points, while Arthur Voukeng scored 9 for Cameroon. —PHOTOGALLERY OF THE MATCH—
In very difficult Pool D in Gdansk, Poland, France have successfully overcome the first obstacle in the FIVB Volleyball Qualifier by dominating FIVB Challenger Cup winner Slovenia in straight sets (26:24, 25:20, 25:23). These 2 teams faced each other for the first time after the 2015 CEV European Championship final in which France claimed the first-ever continental title. And the result was the same, a 3-0 victory for France. Earvin Ngapeth scored 14 points for France with 70% attack while Tonček Štern scored 13 for Slovenia.
Tine Urnaut (Slovenia captain): “I’m really upset, we had our chances in the first set and in the third part we were leading for the most of the time. We played good in all elements, but we made some mistakes in organization of the game. We know how to play after making some errors, but here we delivered many free balls to our opponent and they were punishing us soon after, scoring points. We played very well in service, in attack – we were on similar level, in all elements there was no big difference, but organisation of the game was the key.”
Alberto Giuliani (Slovenia head coach): “A very close match – the main numbers in stats are really similar. Slovenian block was better, but the Frenchmen were better in long rallies. They controlled the ball better and this way the setter had easier job. This is the difference. In the third set individual performances in serve were crucial. Le Roux closed the game this way. The result is three-zero, but we deserved more. Now our situation in this pool is not good. However, we have three matches here, so we have to forget about this game.”
Benjamin Toniutti (France capatin): “Before the match we didn’t expect that playing against Slovenia is going to be easy. This is a strong team and they showed that nobody should ignore them. In our play we had some breaks, but we managed to overcome them and won the whole match 3-0.”
Laurent Tillie (France head coach): “It was a tough game, because Slovenia are a very good team. We have seen that during all three sets in tactical elements, because they had good spike, good block, good service, so it was really difficult. I’m really happy, because we were very focused, even if we were behind we stayed concentrated and calm and this is a very important experience. Now we have to relax and prepare for next game.”
On the same Pool, in a face-off between the world champions and African titleholders, Poland easily prevailed over Tunisia, by a 3-0, and are ready to battle France in the match that already raised tensions. Aleksander Śliwka was the top scorer for Poland with 10 points, while Karol Kłos added 4 winning blocks. Wilfredo León played his first official match for Poland and scored 6 points in 2 sets. Ali Bongui scored 9 points for Tunisia.
Hosni Kara Mosly (Tunisia captain): “It was a tough match, Poland are the world champions, so it’s very hard to play against them. We gave our best, but it was not enough to win. This game is a good preparation ahead of other games, so we hope that we will play better and claim a win here.”
Antonio Giaccobe (Tunisia head coach): “It was a difficult match for us, because we faced the world champions, so nothing was easy. Usually, we don’t play against players on this level. We made many mistakes, but they forced us to do it. We played like we normally do, but here the opponent was much stronger than usual. We were under stress and pressure. We are here to gain experience and I think that today we learned something.”
Michal Kubiak (Poland captain): “Every game is important here. We have to win the first, second and third game, if we want to qualify for the Tokyo 2020. We expect a good game tomorrow, special spectacle for the fans and I hope that everyone here will be happy. May the best team win.”
Vital Heynen (Poland head coach): “Everything is going according to the plan, even this game. We had a couple of good spikes against Tunisia. We had a plan to let everybody play on court today and everybody entered the court. This game was not the best and not the worst, but it was also included in the plan. We did our job, we had never had more serious problems. Maybe a bit in the first set when it was 12-12 and after that we played how we should. This job is done, now we are going to face France.”
In Pool E in Saint Petersburg, Iran survived a thrilling tie-break against Cuba. They were knocked down by Cuba, however, the Asian side managed to stand on its feet on time to record an important victory. So, Iran took the head-to-head lead against Cuba at major world level tournaments (5-4). Interestingly, Cuba prevailed in the first 4 matches, while Iran won the next 4, and now the 5th.
Cuba took the first 2 sets on a 2-point difference, establishing the dominance from the start of each of these sets as if they already had the 3 returnees to the national team in the roster. But, they failed to finish off rivals and Iran came back from 2 sets down: 3-2 (23:25, 26:28, 25:17, 25:16, 15:10).
Iran’s attack proved to be a decisive factor, in fact they had 5 players in double digits, but the best was Ali Shafiei with 20 points, including 3 aces, who was nearly perfect offensively (83.3%). Osniel Melgarejo and Marlon Yang scored 15 each on the other side.
Iran coach Igor Kolakovic: “Normally set is played until 25 points but we came a little bit relaxed and so we lost the first two sets. I’m disappointed with our play in the important moments of the first half of the match. However, in volleyball you always have to play even if you are not having a good day. We must learn how to play in these difficult situations.”
Iran captain Saeid Marouf: “We can’t say that we are not satisfied because a victory is a victory. Cuba started better and managed to surprise us with very strong serving. They were also incredible in defence. After that our experience led us to get back in the game. We took control and showed our normal volleyball.”
Cuba coach Nicolas Vives: “That was a good game. We started well enough but Iran are a very strong team. We didn’t keep the advantage but still I’m satisfied with the way my team played.”
Cuba captain Livan Osoria: “We had a very good start but then we did too many mistakes in spiking and serving. But we don’t have to be upset – Iran are one of the top teams in the world. It is never a shame to lose a match against a strong team.”
In the same pool, the hosts Russia sweep Mexico in straight sets. Dmitriy Muserskiy was the top scorer with 8 points (87.5% in attack). Daniel Vargas scored 9 for Mexico.
Alexander Butko, Russia setter: “We have a fantastic atmosphere here in Saint Petersburg. Playing at home is always a big joy and also a big pressure. Its wonderful that we were able to get this first victory easy enough, it will let us feel more sure in tomorrow clash with Cuba. As for me personally, I’ve just recently joined the team and still didn’t find my best physical conditions. Let’s hope I’ll feel better from game to game”.
Tuomas Sammelvuo, Russia head coach: “This game could seem quite easy for us, but that’s a wrong opinion. We hadn’t enough game practice for some time, so we’ll need some time to get the right game rhythm. That’s why I tried almost all my players. Everybody has to feel themselves in the game”.
Pedro Rangel, Mexico captain: “Russia is a huge team, much higher than ours. So it’s no surprise that we had a big problems in attack. But we don’t have to be upset. We have a lot of newcomers in our roster now. They’ve got a very important experience tonight”.
Jorge Azair, Mexico head coach: “Of course we knew that Russia is one of the strongest teams in the world, especially in blocking. But still I’m sure we could play much better, if we did better in reception”.
In Pool F played in Ningbo, China, Argentina beat Canada by a 3-1 (25:23, 22:25, 27:25, 25:23) on Day 1 of the FIVB Volleyball International Qualifier and made a huge step towards advancing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Even if the International Qualifier has just started, Argentina may have already made a decisive step towards taking a ticket for the Tokyo Olympic Games. They defeated main contenders for the top spot in the Pool, Canada, in their first-ever match in competition. Argentina were led by an attacking power of Facundo Conte who scored 24 points with 62% in attack, while Nicholas Hoag made 19 points for Canada, including 3 winning blocks and 3 aces.
In the opened match of their qualifications, the hosts China defeated Finland by 3-1 in the same pool to make a good start in the competition. A birthday boy on the home team, Jiang Chuan, marked the encounter as a top scorer of the match with 25 points, which is the exact number of years that he turned today! He was especially inspired in a decisive fourth set in which he scored 8 points. Zhang Zhejia added 4 winning blocks. In Finland, Samuli Kaislasalo scored 19 points.
Finland captain Eemi Tervaportti: “Of course the first feeling is disappointment. We came here to win this game and we did not do that, so we cannot be happy. Anyway, tomorrow is a new day. We need to focus on the game tomorrow.”
China captain Ji Daoshuai: “It is the first match for both teams and both teams were nervous. I think it is normal for us as most players of China are young with less experience of such competitions. However, after the first two sets, we got used to the rhythm and reversed the disadvantage. Tomorrow we have to be more concentrated and reduce our errors.”
“We had a full preparation for the difficulties today. But we still made some mistakes in counter-attacking, blocking and especially in some key points. We have to fix the problem and keep improving in the next two matches because Canada and Argentina are very strong and skilled in details. I am happy and excited to win the match on such a special day, however we should not get over-excited as we have two tougher games to play,” said Jiang Chuan, the best scorer of the match with 25 points on his 25th birthday.
Finland coach Joel Banks: “Like my captain said, we came here to win the match against China, the weaker team compared to Argentina and Canada. Obviously, we are disappointed as we did not get the victory. I think in many ways, both teams were quite close, but my team clearly did not know how to win. Especially, when we had the advantage, they did not know always how to finish. So I would like to congratulate to coach Lozano and team China for a good 3-1 victory. It is a disappointment but there were also some positive things from our perspective.”
China coach Raul Lozano: “First of all, I am glad that we won the match today, because this is our first match in the qualification round and this victory is important for our next two matches. We were in difficulty for a while because our players were nervous. But I am glad to see our players adjust themselves well. Now we have taken the first step, and next we have to make a good preparation for the next match against Canada.”
FIVB Volleyball International Qualifier, Day 1:
Pool A – Varna, Bulgaria
Brazil – Puerto Rico 3-0 (25:23, 25:19, 25:19)
Egypt-Bulgaria 1-3 (11:25, 31:33, 25:19, 19:25)
Pool B – Rotterdam,The Netherlands
Netherlands – South Korea 3-2 (23:25, 25:27, 26:24, 25:20, 15:12)
Belgium-USA 1-3 (20:25, 19:25, 25:17, 18:25)
Pool D – Gdansk, Poland
Poland – Tunisia 3-0 (25:15, 25:19, 25:19)
France-Slovenia 3-0 (26:24, 25:20, 25:23)
Pool E – St Petersburg, Russia
Iran – Cuba 3-2 (23:25, 26:28, 25:17, 25:16, 15:10)
Russia – Mexico 3-0 (25:15, 25:11, 25:17)
Pool F – Ningbo, China
China – Finland 3-1 (25:22, 21:25, 25:22, 25:23)
Canada – Argentina 1-3 (23:25, 25:22, 25:27, 23:25)
Photos: volleyball.ioqt.2019.fivb.com, randomvolley_com