BAKU, Azerbaijan, January 9, 2004 - Following five days of play off action it has come down to two teams Germany and Turkey who will play off for the one Olympic ticket available in Saturday's final of the Women's European Olympic Qualification tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan after both sides won their semifinals on Friday.
In the first semifinal, Germany won a five-set thriller against world champions Italy coming back after losing the first two sets and being two match points down to eventually win the match 3-2 (19-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-23, 17-15). Turkey surprisingly defeated European champions Poland in the other semifinal 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18) to set up a final at 1600(local time) to see who will claim qualification to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in August.
Germany should start the final as slight favourites having beaten Turkey the last time the two teams met in preliminary pool play at the 2003 European Championships and they are currently showing some great form in this tournament. Against Italy, it looked like the 'Squadra Azzurri' would cruise to a straight sets victory at 2-0 up but as has often happened in the past to the world champions, they let their lead and ascendancy slip and Germany came back tremendously to snatch the match. In the fifth set tiebreaker, Italy led for most of the way but Germany came back from 2-7 and 5-9 down and even saved two match points.
It was their mistakes that 'killed' Italy. Darina Mifkova, who came on the court at the end of the fifth set replacing star Francesca Piccinini, made two unforced attack errors at the two Italian match points. When the Italian middle blocker Simona Gioli hit her attack out of bounds on the German second match point, the European Championships bronze medalists could celebrate.
"This is a real sensation," German head coach Hee Wan Lee said. "I never believed anymore in a victory after we lost the first two sets. My players started to play more freely, while Italy came under pressure. It is amazing what my team did, because one day earlier we already played a long five set match."
For Italy, the loss doesn't mean that the Athens Olympics are out of reach. They will represent Europe together with Russia during the FIVB World Olympic Qualification tournament in Japan in May. In this event, four Olympic tickets are at stake, with one compulsory for an Asian team.
In the other semifinal it was a replay of the final of the 2003 European Championships, which Poland won easily 3-0, and this time Turkey turned it around to book their spot in the final. The match was also a battle of the top attackers in Europe with Malgorzata Glinka, the Polish spiker who was crowned as European Player of 2003, this time losing out to Turkey's top spikers Neslihan Demir and Natalia Hanikoglu.