BAKU, Azerbaijan, 8 January 2004 - Former world number 1 Russia has had their chance of qualifying for the Athens Olympics at the Women's European Olympic Qualification Tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan extinguished after Germany beat the Olympic silver medalists 3-2 (25-21, 16-25, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13) on Thursday.
The win confirmed Germany as the fourth semifinalist in this tournament in which only one Olympic ticket is at stake. On Wednesday, Poland, Italy and Turkey already secured their semifinal spots.
In a must-win match for both sides and a repeat of the game at the 2003 European Championships won by Germany, the match turned out to be an extremely spectacular clash under the eyes of CEV President Andre Meyer and CEV Vice President Jan Hronek.
Germany took the first set, but Russia came back strongly thanks to some great play from Anastasia Belikova to grab the next two sets. After Germany leveled the match by winning the fourth set easily, the fifth set tiebreaker produced the upset.
Russia took the lead at 8-6, but from that moment the German defense played a key role and together with spikes from captain Angelina Grun and Judith Sylvester, Germany wrestled back the lead. It was Atika Bouagaa who brought her team the victory at the second match point.
For Russia, this event ends just like the 2003 European Championships when the team of Nikolai Karpol also failed to reach the semifinals. Russia will have another chance to gain an Olympic ticket during the World Qualification Tournament in Japan later this year.
"Of course we will celebrate this victory this evening," German coach Hee Wan Lee said. "You don't win against Russia every day".
Captain Angelina Grun added: "I hope we will recover from this extreme match. But now we are in the semifinals, we can play without pressure and see how far we will go."
The other two matches played on Thursday were only important to finalize the exact ranking. Poland lost first place in Pool A after a surprising straight sets (25-18, 25-21, 25-23) defeat against hosts Azerbaijan. Turkey claimed first place in Pool B after beating the Netherlands 3-1 (25-22, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19) and finished ahead of Italy who finished pool play on Wednesday.
The women's European Olympic Qualification tournament continues on Friday with the two semifinals between Germany and Italy and Turkey against Poland. The winner of the final on Sunday will qualify for Athens.