LEIPZIG, Germany, January 6, 2004 - Poland ended the winning streak of Germany during the Men's European Olympic Qualification Tournament here in Leipzig, Germany on Tuesday when the Polish squad defeated the home crowd favorite 3-2 (22-25, 25-16, 25-27, 26-24, 15-13). The loss makes it a tough job for Germany now to qualify for the semifinals of the tournament in which eight European teams are battling it out for only one ticket to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
After blowing Bulgaria off the court on Monday, Germany had high hopes for their match against Poland, the number five team at the 2003 European Championships and they started well. In front of almost 4,000 fans, Germany won two of the first three but with a semifinal spot beckoning everything suddenly went wrong for Germany at 24-24 in the fourth set,. Like during last years' European Championships, the home crowd favorite simply couldn't cope with the high pressure.
Poland won the fourth set to level the match, took an early lead in the fifth set tiebreaker and never looked back, sealing the 3-2 victory on the second occasion with a spike from Robert Prygiel and leaving the German players extremely disappointed. Together with Dawid Murek, Prygiel was the best scorer in the match with 19 points. Christian Pampel collected 18 points for Germany.
Meanwhile Russia, in their first match of the tournament, easily defeated Bulgaria in their Pool A clash in three straight sets (25-20, 25-20, 25-19). Only in the first set, Bulgaria was able to keep up with their opponent and was even leading at 16-15. At that moment, the 2.15m tall Russian attacker Stanislav Dineykin started his 'one man show'. The attacker from the Italian club team Sisley Treviso made a couple of spikes before completing two aces to put his team back in front.
From that moment Bulgaria never mounted a challenge and having already lost to Germany on Monday, they proceeded to lose their second straight match.
Dineykin was the best scorer of the match with 18 points while all rounder Serguei Tetyukhin put 14 points on the scoreboard. Russia was especially impressive in blocking, making nine points in this skill.
"I am happy that we started the tournament with a victory," Russian captain Vadim Khamuttskikh said. "It's our goal to qualify for Athens 2004 here in Leipzig. We will do anything to succeed."
"The first match of any tournament is always a hard one," Russian coach Guennadi Chipouline added. "I was a bit worried about it, as Bulgaria is a difficult opponent. We lost the last two official matches against them. Today we had two new players on the team: libero Alexey Verbov and Stanislav Dineykin, who returned to the national team. Both of them did a great job."
In Pool B action on Tuesday, Spain, with captain Rafael Pascual top scoring with 29 points, collected its first victory by beating Finland 3-2 (25-19, 22-25, 15-25, 25-23, 15-10). Finland, winner of the pre-qualification tournament, was three points away from victory in the fourth set at 22-22 but the more experienced Spanish squad didn't give up and won the match to keep alive their slight hopes of making it to the semifinal stage.
"I am very disappointed that we lost the match as I know that we could have won," Finnish captain Tuomas Sammelvuo (11 points) said. "We knew that we had to block Pascual. In a lot of parts we succeeded in doing so but in the end he scored the most important points."
"It was tough match," Francisco Hervas, head coach of Spain said. "We didn't know a lot about the opponent, but we were well prepared for the match. We have always believed in the chance to win. In the end it might have been the international experience that helped us to win.'