Madrid, July 10, 2003 – Russia and Bulgaria pulled out their big guns to
contest an early morning shoot-out on the third day of the FIVB $15 million
World League final preliminaries in a match that Russia had to win to advance
to the semifinals of this elite annual men’s volleyball competition. But
Bulgaria, an immensely powerful and talented side, held their nerve against a
traditional rival and captured an upset 3-1 (18.25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-22)
victory to send the title defenders home.
Last year Russia almost got knocked out in the preliminaries, but then went on
to take the title against hosts Brazil. ”We did not play well today, not yesterday and not before that. I don’t know
why,” said Russia’s Pavel Abramov. His coach Guennade Chipouline pledged
to “change some of the squad of 12 ahead of the European championship”.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria celebrated with their captain Nikolay Ivanov saying after
the match: “With our present form we have shown we can play good volleyball
with the best teams in the world.”
Russia started strongly and powered their way through the first set 25-18
against the Bulgarians, who came to the finals with the daunting task of
facing Brazil, Russia and Italy, volleyball’s “Big Three”, in the first round.
Bulgaria then rubbed the sleep from their eyes in the second set and drew
level at 7-7. They lengthened to 13-11 setting up a contest between Russia’s
Sergey Baranov (208cm) and Bulgaria’s 210cm-tall Evgeni Ivanov, while their
setters, Nikolay Ivanov for Bulgaria and Vadim Khamouttkikh for Russia, who,
to the delight of the crowd, danced the elegant dance of superb setters.
With the two Ivanovs on the block, the cheeky Bulgarians then shut out Russia
to level at 16-all, held on to 19-all and lengthened to 21-19. Russia crept
closer but the set point fell to Bulgaria then Hristo Tsvetanov levitated in
front of the net and delivered an undefendable missile into the Russian court.
Seconds later he repeated the shot to tie the set score and provoke euphoria
among the Bulgarian fans in the stands.
An early three point lead in the third set put fire in Bulgarian bellies.
Tsvetanov was in superb form, helping Bulgaria to a 14-10 lead while Russia’s
coach Chipouline began to tap his foot nervously. Then Baranov served into the
net, Bulgaria was in front 20-13 and they went on, with superior fire power,
to close out 25-18.
In the vital fourth set the two sides were level at 11-all. Russia hit the
front at 16-15 and again they were equal at 21-all. Russia stepped up to fend
off one match point but Bulgaria won the day and the titleholders were out.
Matey Kaziyski was top scorer for the match, powering home 19 points from 17
attacks and two blocks. Semen Poltavsky was top for Russia with 14 attack
Greece meets Serbia and Montenegro in the next match.