Madrid, Spain, July 8, 2003 - World League finals hosts Spain started with fire in their bellies on Tuesday night in their first encounter of the tournament in this, the FIVB's elite $15 million annual men's volleyball competition, defeating Greece 3-1 in the final match of the first day of competition.
Urged on by the best crowd of the day, the home team led by maestro captain Raphael (Rafa) Pasqual - and with a share of luck - held off the powerful Greeks until their Marios Gkiourdas delivered an ace to take his side to 23-20. Pascual countered, the set point then went to Greece and was first defended but not for a second time. Spain left the court down 22-25, but was not out.
And if not the stunning volleyball of the earlier encounter between Russia and Italy, it was still passionate when Spain steamed to 18-14 in this stadium which usually hosts bullfights.
Juan Jose Salvador, Rafa's heir apparent turned on great performance on the block and Spain hung on to 21-18. Greece narrowed a point but an overhead missile by Enrique de la Fuente gave Spain set point and they were one set-all.
The two sides shadow-boxed their way through the next set, with flashes of brilliance from the Greeks of the caliber of Gkiourdas and 205cm-tall Antonios Tsakiropoulos, while the Spaniards were riding on pure adrenalin with a 20-17 lead. The Greeks fended off the first set point but not the second as Rafa took charge and drove home the winner for 2-1to Spain.
The Greeks finally leveled at 9-all in the fourth set but the Spanish Armada continued their attack. They crept to within one point at 19-18 while a courageous pocket of their fans waved their national flag.
In the end it was a Greek service error that gave the Spaniards the match and brought them one step towards a semifinals berth, even if they still have two tough encounters.
"It was a very beautiful moment for us," Pasqual said after the match, while his coach Francisco Hervas said the group was still "wide open" and said he hoped the Spanish public would continue their support through the other matches.
Earlier in a display of volleyball poetry, Russia defeated Italy in an electrifying five setter while. Brazil recovered from a first set shock to down Bulgaria 3-1 and in the first match of the day, a sleepy Serbia and Montenegro aroused themselves from early set slumbers to defeat the Czech Republic 3-0 in a match that was harder than the set score reflected. Hosts Spain face Greece in the closing match on this first day of the finals of this elite annual tournament.