LUXEMBOURG, 12 May 2003 - Six European teams booked a ticket to the 2003 Men's European Championship in September following the final round of qualifying on the weekend. Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Slovakia all qualified thanks to winning their respective qualification pools while France and the Netherlands were the 'lucky losers, finishing as the two best second ranked teams.
Sixteen teams from across Europe fought it out for the last six vacancies for the Men's European Championship, to be played in Germany from September 5-14. Having played three matches exactly a year ago, all the teams played another three on the weekend to settle the final qualification order.
In Pool A, played in Croatia, Bulgaria, who finished sixth at the last European Championship in 2001, won the group following an inconsistent weekend. After the opening day defeat to Hungary (3-0), there were a lot of doubts in the Bulgarian team but even a loss to hosts Croatia on Sunday, couldn't prevent Bulgaria from finishing on top of the pool, thanks to their three victories last year.
Greece finished top of Pool 2, which was played in Finland, thanks to three wins over France, Finland and Romania while the bronze medallist at the 2002 World Championship France, finished second. The set ratio of the Philippe Blain coached team was enough to qualify as the best ranked number two.
Spain cruised through Pool 3, played in Macedonia. The only problem the Spanish team had was in the match against Slovenia, which Spain lost 3-2. An easy 3-0 victory over the Netherlands, the 1997 European Champion, secured the group victory for Spain. However, the Netherlands, who have played in every European Championship since 1981, had to rely on the calculator. If they had lost one more set they would have missed out on a second-best qualifying spot.
Pool 4 In Turkey was definitely the most exciting group with Slovakia the surprise victors after victories over Portugal and Turkey. Ukraine finished second, but finished one set short of knocking out the Netherlands as the one of two second-best ranked teams. World No 14 Portugal, who finished eighth at the 2002 World Championship, failed again to qualify for the European Championship.
Defending champion Serbia & Montenegro, host Germany, Italy, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland were already directly qualified for the Final Round. After the exciting qualification round on the weekend, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Slovakia, France and Netherlands complete the twelve participants.
The twelve participants will be draw in two pools of six teams. The preliminary rounds will be played in Karlsruhe and Leipzig. The semifinals and finals will take place in the Max-Schmeling Arena in Berlin.
The drawing of lots is scheduled for Friday May 16 2003 at 1100 CET in the Old City Hall of Leipzig, Germany.