LEIPZIG, Germany, January 5, 2004 - European Championship runner's-up France overcame the offence of Spain on the first day of the Men's European Olympic Qualification Tournament here in Leipzig, Germany on Monday to register their first victory of the tournament with a 3-1 (25-21, 35-37, 25-16, 25-19) win.
In other Monday action, hosts Germany demolished Bulgaria in straight sets (25-19, 25-19, 25-18) while the Netherlands grabbed a three set victory (25-22, 25-23, 25-19) over Finland.
France, who finished fifth at the 2003 World Cup, opened their account with an impressive display against their world number 14 opponents but had some difficulties in the second set. France failed to take one of seven opportunities to win the set and after a long battle, Spain tied the game up winning the set 37-35. But in the third and fourth set, the World Championship bronze medalists showed again why they are one of the main candidates to take the Olympic ticket here in Leipzig.
The clever French attacker Stephane Antiga was the top scorer with 21 points ahead of Spanish star Rafael Pasqual, who made 20. Middle blocker and French captain Dominique Daquin also played a key role collecting 14 points.
"We faced some problems against Spain and didn't play at our normal level," Daquin said. "But fortunately we had enough power to win the match."
"It is a very important victory," French coach Philippe Blain added. "But I also know that we have to play better in the rest of the tournament, especially in receiving."
In Pool A, Germany didn't disappoint their home fans against Bulgaria with an impressive performance against on of the tournament's danger teams. The German team started the match extremely well taking an 11-6 lead and this was enough to clinch the set. In the second set middle blocker Ralph Bergmann served his team to a giant lead and once the set was sealed any signs of a Bulgarian come back was over. Germany's Christian Pampel was the best scorer of the match with 14 points, closely followed by his captain Wolfgang Kuck with 13. One of the keys to victory for Germany was their low error count with Bulgaria making 24 errors to their 10.
"We played very strongly in all skills and that impressed Bulgaria," German coach Stelian Moculescu said. "All players did a great job. The team has grown up in the past four months and has learned a lot since the European Championship. We are playing at a higher level and we were able to keep this level throughout the entire match".
In other Monday action, the Netherlands had little trouble in beating Finland in Pool B. The winner of the pre-qualification tournament couldn't do anything against the Flying Dutchmen, who took just over an hour to claim victory. Finland had a small chance at 22-22 in the second set to tie the game up but the experience of the Netherlands brought the 'Orange' squad the victory.
The Finnish attacker Olli Aakula was the best scorer with 17 points while on the Dutch side, power hitter Guido Gortzen top scored with 13, closely followed by captain Reinder Nummerdor (12), Rob Bontje (12) and Mike van de Goor (11).