BAKU, Azerbaijan, January 7, 2004 - Italy kicked the Netherlands out of the Women's European Olympic Qualification Tournament here in Baku Azerbaijan on Wednesday, after the world champions put in a superb straight sets (25-14, 25-18, 25-15) performance to book themselves a place in the semifinals.
European champion Poland and Turkey also booked their spots in Friday's semifinals after defeating Germany 3-2 (25-21, 29-27, 22-25, 17-25, 16-14) and Bulgaria 3-1 (25-19, 18-25, 25-16, 25-19) respectively.
In the key Pool B clash on Wednesday morning the Netherlands knew they had to defeat Italy to keep their Olympic qualification hopes alive so it was no surprise that the Dutch team, coached by the Italian Angiolino Frigoni, started the match extremely well. The 'Orange squad' grabbed an 11-7 lead in the first set before everything went wrong. Italian setter Eleonora Lo Bianco brought her team back in the match thanks to some great serves and when she was finished, Italy was leading 21-11.
From that moment, the Squadra Azzurra started to play better and won the clash easily in just over an hour and following their defeat to Turkey on Monday, they are gathering some ominous form.
In Pool A, Poland and Germany played a terrific match. It was a repeat of the semifinal of the 2003 European Championships, the event that Poland won. Like last year, the Poles grabbed victory after an exciting fifth set tiebreaker. The European champion took the first two sets, but Germany came back strongly and won the next two. Poland stayed in front in the fifth set and secured the victory by winning the tiebreaker 15-13.
The victory puts Poland on top of Pool A as the only undefeated team and guarantees their semifinal spot with one more match to play. The other semifinalist from this preliminary pool will be the winner of Thursday's clash between Russia and Germany.