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European Women's Olympic Qualification: Poland edge host Germany in five-set thriller

Anna Baranska flying high to beat host Germany

Halle (GER), 16 January 2008 – On day two of the Women’s European Olympic Qualification Tournament 2008 in Halle (Germany), Poland overpowered host Germany in an exciting five-setter. Whilst top favorite Russia easily beat Croatia in straight sets, Serbia entered the competition with a hard-fought 3:2 victory over Romania.

In the first duel on day two between Russia and Croatia, the remarkable Russian talents of Ekaterina Gamova and Liubov Shashkova were quickly on display, as they spiked viciously from the left and right, blocked Sanja Popovic and soared from the back court - all before the Croatians went into the second technical timeout at 11-16. Yulia Merkulova added a service ace at 19-12, and the young Croatians were having problems digging the sharply angled spikes of the giant Russian attackers. Croatian setter Marina Katic then showed two successful combinations, before Natlia Kulikova ended the first set with a tip up the left, 25-19 Russia. After the short break, Russia were keen not to go cold, and turned up the heat, 8-3 at the first technical timeout. Jelena Alajbeg spiked past Marina Sheshenina’s block to raise Croatian spirits, but Russia immediately undid the good work with more careless serving. When Gamova spiked powerfully from the right, the hall fell silent – 18-10 in Russia’s favor. Natalya Safronova, looking for extra power, spiked powerful through the middle to make things clear. The Russians were in no mood for drama, and their speed and power left Croatia blocking shadows. It was a magnificent display by Caprara's ladies, who closed out the second set 25-15. The third set saw Russia romp into a 5-3 lead, forcing an early Croatia timeout, as they mastered their opponents in all phases of play. Even though Mirela Delic blocked Safronova, Russia were buzzing with attacking combinations, allowing setter Sheshenina to spike quickly into a big space with the defense scattered. Down 9-17, Mijo Vukovic continued to ring the changes, sending Alajbeg back for Magda Maras. But it was already too late; Merkulova ended the match with an impressive block winner. “We played well today”, said Russian coach Giovanni Caprara, “but I don’t think that we are the only favorite in this tournament. Five teams are able to finish first, inclusive Germany. But it will not be easy for the hosts.”

In fact, the Germans experienced a difficult start in their clash against yesterday’s winner Poland. The Poles, with Malgorzata Glinka, Katarzyna Skowronska as well as Eleonora Dziekiewicz one of the top favorites to qualify for Beijing, jumped out to a 10-8 lead, kick-started by a monstrous hit from Glinka on the left. But Hanka Pachale stroke back with a long line shot to 12-12, before Dziekiewicz surprised the Germans with a brilliant block. Indeed, the game was played at the highest level with the German team getting in some massive spikes from Hanka Pachale, Angelina Grün as well as Cornelia Dumler to take a four-point lead at 21-17. Grün brought set point with another big blast and the Poles handed Germany the set when Skowronska netted a soft tip. But it wasn't all one-way traffic. The Poles fought back bravely and both teams defended as if their lives depended on it. This was high-level volleyball. But Germany were playing with no apparent weaknesses at this moment. Corina Ssuschke demonstrated the creative element with a couple of flying spikes and Pachale, later, added a clever little push shot that fooled the Poles at 9-11. However, Poland fired back at 17-17, when Anna Baranska scored on the left, and two Maria Liktoras blocks offered the Poles a 20-18 lead. Dziekiewicz seemed to be everywhere and she was on hand to make a great kill for set point. The Germans conceded the set on a spike error, for once by Grün. After a third set completely successful for Germany (25-14!), things didn't get any better for Poland at the beginning of the fourth set. Superstar Grün put the Germans ahead while Ssuschke smashed a quick spike down the right-hand line to 11-8. When Liktoras tipped a ball soft in the center and Glinka scored from the left, the Polish hopes revived at 16-13. Grün returned to form with a mammoth slug and a service winner, but a yellow card at 22-18 in Poland’s favor crushed all German hopes for a 3:1 victory. Podolec finished it without remorse. Neither team would give ground as the tiebreak got under way, but Podolec again came up with some great spikes followed by an even better service winner at 6-2 when Giovanni Guidetti called his first timeout. Dumler fired back at 3-9, but the die was cast. With Poland leading 14-8, Dziekiewicz delivered the coup de grace with a spike down the middle that the Germans couldn't touch.

In the third match of the day, Serbia entered the tournament with a hard-fought 3:2 victory over Romania. Best scorer of the Serbian team was Ivana Djerisolo with 22 points.

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Women’s European Olympic Qualification Tournament
Halle, Germany: 15-20 January 2008

Pool A: Serbia, Russia, Romania, Croatia
Pool B: Germany, Poland, Turkey, Nederland

Match schedule (all times CET)
Tuesday 15 January 2008
GER – TUR 3:0 (25-20, 26-24, 25-19)
CRO – ROU 2:3 (25-21, 14-25, 25-22, 23-25, 5-15)
NED – POL 1:3 (17-25, 28-30, 25-16, 20-25)

Wednesday 16 January 2008
1500: CRO – RUS 0:3 (19-25, 15-25, 12-25)
1730: POL – GER 3:2 (22-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-19, 15-8)
2000: ROU – SRB 2:3 (27-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-25, 11-15)

Thursday 17 January 2008
1500: TUR - NED
1730: SRB - CRO
2000: ROU - RUS
Friday 18 January 2008
1500: TUR - POL
1730: RUS - SRB
2000: GER - NED
Saturday 19 January 2008
1730 & 2000 Semifinals
Sunday 20 January 2008
1530 FINAL



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