Rome, the so-called “Eternal City”, will be once again the stage of great volleyball: here, today, the top four of 2023 CEV European Championship will face each others for a spot in Grand Finale, scheduled on Saturday.
All games will be played at Palazzo dello Sport, a historic venue for Italian volleyball and in which hosts and defending champions Italy triumphed in the 2005 World Championship ahead of Russia and Serbia Montenegro.
And the venue is now ready to host the Final Four of the elite European event, which took place between Italy, Bulgaria, Israel and North Macedonia, in a two-day spectacle (Thursday, 14th September and Saturday 16th September).
The top 4 are Slovenia, the first team who claimed the ticket for semifinals after a thrilling victory against Ukraine in Varna, Bulgaria, followed by France, who eliminated Romania after a hard-fought 3-0, Poland, who eliminated Serbia at PalaFlorio in Bari after an exciting four-sets clash, and Italy, who needed five sets to down a great The Netherlands.
In the frame of the venue built in 1956 by Pierluigi Nervi and Marcello Piacentini for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, the gala celebrate also the 50th anniversary of the Confédération Européenne de Volleyball (CEV), the governing body of European Volleyball and Beach Volleyball and organiser of the event.
In first semifinal, scheduled today at 6pm local time, Poland, who boasts a collection of medals but only one gold, taken in 2009, will face Slovenia, three times runners-up of the event (in 2015 edition held in Sofia, Bulgaria, when they were defeated by France, and then in 2019 in Paris behind winners Serbia and in 2021 in Katowice, in which they were defeated by Italy in decisive gold medal match).
Poland Captain Bartosz Kurek said in Media Meeting organised by the CEV held yesterday afternoon with the presence of the coaches and captains of the teams that will take part in Final Four: “I feel very good, and together with the team we are ready for the match. My memory of the past and the past successes of this team does not matter now, we have to think about today. Right now it is much more difficult for us to play than in the past because the opponents are very strong. The expectations on us are high, but we have to handle the pressure from the media, the fans, etc. and we are ready for that. We are aware that tomorrow’s game can be decided on one, two decisive points. If I were a fan I would be delighted and excited to see this match. We are looking forward to it.”
“The trip went very well, we are excited. We have taken part in this extraordinary tournament many times, the quality of the four teams is very high. It is important for us to be here and we will try to win. In the quarters we had a tough game.
Serbia played a great game because knowing that they were not favourites they played at their best. I was confident that we would have the ability to overcome the difficulties during the match,” added head coach Nikola Grbic.
And about the semifinal: “Slovenia is a really capable team that can come out of difficulties well. These four teams, all of them, can win, we have to expect everything until the end. The episodes will be decisive. I expect great volleyball and I hope we can bring the match home tomorrow. All the players must know that they can be decisive even coming off the bench. At the moment my only concern is to prepare tomorrow’s match as well as possible, the last day of competition will be a later thought.”
Gheorghe Cretu, coach of Slovenia: “We know we are here deserving to be here, the guys are very focused and determined. It almost feels like we are facing a championship because of how many games we play during the year, among all the international competitions, but it is OK, this helps us to stay focused. We will need in these Finals to play games like the ones we have played so far in this competition on several occasions. My players are ready to suffer, as we have done in many matches in this tournament, as well as to play the game, it will depend on the game situation.”
Tine Urnaut, outside hitter and captain of Slovenia added: “We are happy to have reached the Final Four of this European Championship. We are fully aware that we are playing with one of the best teams in the world, but at the moment we are only focused on our game and our potential. I am grateful for the fans who are following us and hopefully they will be many tomorrow as well. I just say to stay very focused and fight on every ball as we have shown we can do.
The second semifinal will instead see Azzurri, holders of the European and World titles, against Olympic champions France: is this enough to call it a super match?
To speak for the two teams, again, the coach and the captain.”
In second semifinal, defending champions Italy, who boast 7 European titles including the last one (plus 1989, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2005) will face Olympic Champions France, who won the title in 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“The competition is important, we have played all the stages but it is now, with the Finals, that the really crucial moment comes. The step ahead of us is the match against Italy, which has shown to be a great team with an important mentality. For coaches it is different, we don’t touch the ball, we are not physically on the court, but still there are emotions even as a coach. Playing against Italy on an Italian court does not change the goals and the determination with which my team will approach the match, when the game starts my players are the only thing I think about,” said Andrea Giani, head coach of France.
Benjamin Toniutti, setter and captain of France: “I had Fefè as coach so he knows me very well. A lot of people are waiting for these Final Four where there are four solid teams at the centre, capable of giving battle to even the best equipped teams. We are happy to have come this far: in Rome we will play for a medal. The memories of 2014 are wonderful, especially I remember the mentality, how we came back from 2-0 down to 3-2 against Italy and then also in the semifinals, the same situation with Bulgaria in an incredible atmosphere. Tomorrow we are preparing for something very similar, we are ready.”
Ferdinando De Giorgi, head coach of Italy: “Being here fills us with pride because for us this European is very important.In every city we were in everything was organised perfectly, in an incredible way, and this was fundamental for the whole movement. I don’t know what I think of Giani (laughs nda), he is a friend of mine.
We are proud to play these finals and play for a medal. France is undoubtedly a very strong team, we will have to play with our mentality, with our approach. These types of matches are very difficult to play.You have to be focused at all times and tackle moment after moment. Yesterday was a very difficult game, but we were able to overcome the difficulties.
Now that game is over and another one begins.
The 2021 European Championship was special, a change of generation and a few days of working together led us to win that event. We started from what it means to play for Italy, to represent Italy, and then we won. Now we want to continue.As for Russo, we will evaluate this afternoon’s tests to see how he is.
For us it is a problem, but not insuperable, because we also have other players ready.”
Simone Giannelli, setter and captain of the Italian national team: “The game against The Netherlands was a very difficult match with a great team and a phenomenal player, Nimir.It was hard to wake up this morning, but now we are here and, as the coach said, there is a lot of pride. Mentally, yesterday was really difficult even with Russo’s injury, but we didn’t give up, we also fought for Roberto. I’m happy to be here, but that’s the past. Now there is the present, tomorrow will be a tough race.
Two years ago it was a very strange situation, after the Olympics we started with a new coach and a young team, we changed mentality and the European Championship was crazy. Just two weeks of training and we got there to play for gold. But that doesn’t count now, that’s the past. We have to think about tomorrow and stay focused on what can help us to win. We worked a lot this summer, we looked at our competitions, studying what to improve on, to get here and play our best volleyball.”
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