Bulgaria stun European champions of Serbia to advance to semifinals!
The team coached by italian expert Silvano Prandi is the first team to claim a semifinal spot from Pool B in the continental Olympic qualifier in Berlin. 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 almost put the European champions out of contention, since their only hope now rests on a highly unlikely straight-set win for the Netherlands over France in the last match of the pool.
With the semifinal pass in his pocket, coach Silvano Prandi changed all seven athletes on his squad after winning two sets.
Tsvetan Sokolov scored 20 points during the first three sets, enough to be the top the match, while Nemanja Petric scored 17 for Serbia.
Silvano Prandi , Coach of Bulgaria: “Yeah, it’s one more good, good match for us. But I think that our team, Bulgarian team, improve day by day and now it’s interesting to see when we stop. I don’t know, but every player is growing that grow, as a moral condition, but also technical condition. Tomorrow we play against Germany, right? It will be interesting. We take good environment, with a good public. A great event needs great environment.”
Nemanja Petrić, Captain of Serbia: “I don’t know what to say after this difficult game for us. We believed that we can reach this ticket for Tokyo. For some of us, actually for all of us, this was our dream and it’s not easy now to say anything, you know. Bulgaria today was much better, we must say this because they deserve this victory. They were more aggressive. They served really well from nine metre and it was difficult to play against them if one team serve like they did it today.”
Slovenia have chosen France as rivals in the semifinals: they didn’t want to leave room for speculations. Slovenia defeated Czech Republic in four sets (25:12, 28:26, 19:25, 28:26) in the last round and earned No.1 in Pool A (in front of Germany). They will face France (No.2 from Pool B). Slovenia’s head coach Alberto Giuliani send the strongest line-up on the court in the opening set but started to mix his team as from the 2nd set, giving chance to some players that played only a bit or not at all. Jan Kozamernik was the top scorer (and MVP) for the winning side with 15 points through 73% attack (11/15). Patrik Indra scored 19 points for the Czechs, while Adam Zajíček made 5 winning blocks.
Tine Urnaut, captain of Slovenia: “Today we went to win the match and that’s the most important thing. We changed a little bit the start-up, we changed during the match. But the most important thing was to win. Tomorrow will be a very tough match against France. They are the favourites of the semi-final, maybe also the whole tournament. And we know that we need to play quality Volleyball if we want to win.”
Michal Nekola, Head Coach of Czech Republic: “The start was horrible; it was one word: catastrophe. But during the time we changed the rotation with the guy. We found six players. They played very, very well. It’s a pity that we lost to end of the set, two and four. It was in too easy mistakes we lost this game. But Slovenia is a stronger opponent so we focus for the next, for the future of these guys because they are very young and we will see. For me it was a good tournament because we presented a very young team. I hope that we have a lot of experience from this tournament.”
By taking the first set of their last Pool B match against the Netherlands, France have mathematically ensured their ticket for the semifinals. Qualifying to the knockout stage allowed head coach Laurent Tillie to immediately replace the starting lineup. Backups couldn’t win more than one set and were beaten in the tie-break. Roberto Piazza also combined his line-up during the match. Even though he played only the first 2 sets, Nimir Abdel-Aziz was the top scorer of the match with 16 points, while Yacine Louati scored 13 points for France.
Benjamin Toniutti, Captain of France: “We knew before the game that we need one set to go to the semi-finals, we won this first set. They played good, whole of today. I think they played the best game of the tournament. And we are happy to go to the semi-final. And we have not a lot of time to rest, but we will try to rest and to be ready for the battle against Slovenia tomorrow.”
Nimir Abdel-Aziz, Captain of The Netherlands: “At least we have a win. We took some sets and that’s it. We go home with a win, that´s ok. Still, the level wasn’t that good, but I think the guys who played today, the guys who came in, they showed a good level and we’re happy because of that.”
2019 European Volleyball Olympic Qualifier, pool stage – Round 4:
Serbia-Bulgaria 2-3 (21:25, 26:24, 22:25, 25:20, 13:15)
France-The Netherlands 2-3 (25:21, 25:20, 22:25, 19:25, 11:15)
Slovenia-Czech Republic 3-1 (25:12, 28:26, 19:25, 28:26)