Baku, Azerbaijan, January 5, 2004 -Turkey and Bulgaria both pulled off sensational upsets on the opening day of the Women's European Olympic Qualification Tournament here in Baku, Azerbaijan on Monday. The Turkish team, runner-up at the 2003 European Championships, defeated current world champion Italy 3-1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-19) while Bulgaria beat the Netherlands in straight sets (25-17, 25-18, 25-23).
The only other match on the opening day saw tournament favorite Russia overcome hosts Azerbaijan 3-1 (25-20, 26-24, 26-28, 25-21). Only the winner of the event will qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
In a tough opening day Italy, who together with Russia and European Champion Poland, is one of the main candidates to grab the Olympic ticket, were knocked over by Turkey despite winning the first set. After losing the second set, everything went wrong for the world champion as Turkey showed that their place in the final of last year's European Championships was no surprise as they took the next three sets. Turkish spiker Neslihan Demir was the best scorer of the match with 27 points while Jenny Barazza and Nadia Centoni both collected 13 points for Italy.
In the same group, the Netherlands couldn't counter their injury problems with key setter Kim Staelens absent due to an extremely bad knee injury. And with the Dutch also not having the easiest of trips to the capital of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria took advantage to run away and take the important Pool B clash. Bulgarian spiker Antonia Zetova was by far the best player of the match while on the Dutch side, Elles Leferink was the only player that performed well. "We are in a difficult situation now, but everything is still possible," the Dutch coach Angiolino Frigoni said.
In the other action on Monday, Russia put in a near faultless performance in overcoming Azerbaijan. It was disappointing for the home fans their team couldn't do better than win only the third set against a Russian side determined to improve upon a disastrous 2003 in which the former world number one team only finished fifth at the European Championships.
Action continues on Tuesday with three more matches with Germany and European Champion Poland making their first appearances.