HALLE (GER), 20 January 2008 – Russia overpowered Poland in the Sunday’s final of the Women’s European Olympic Qualification Tournament and claimed the European ticket for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The Russian Rockets led 2-0 after two sets, before the Poles bounced back with an outstanding fighting spirit. At the end it was the Russian block making the difference, carrying Russia to a 15-12 tiebreak win. Poland left Halle with nothing but will still have a chance together with Serbia in the Japan FIVB World Qualification Tournament in May.
The final duel in Halle/Germany began in a festive atmosphere, with the teams looking relaxed at the end of an intensive tournament. However, this did not mean they were not focused on the job, especially in blocking. Merkulova and Alimova both got to work quickly, denying Skowronska and Dziekiewicz in turn, before Glinka displayed her awesome power at the net in blasting a fluid winner. Gamova again on block moved the score forward in Poland’s favor, 8-7 at the first technical timeout. Russia led the reply, leveling to 8. Both teams having extraordinary power in all phases of the game, and they were slugging it out like two heavyweights as the scoreboard moved along rapidly. Shashkova used all her court craft to outfox the Polish block and defense and took Russia to the second technical timeout with a one-point lead, 16-15. On the restart, the Russian ladies mixed up her serves to keep the Polish defense on their toes, and Glinka sent it out of bounds for a 20-16 Russian lead. But Glinka came back strongly, scoring first on the right and then with a service ace. When the Russian attack began to falter and the errors led to 20-20, Russia lost their momentum. However, Gamova as well as Kulikova fired back, forcing Polish head coach Marco Bonitta to call his second timeout. Merkulova brought up set point with a quick combination on the right. Poland saved the first with Liktoras spiking successfully, before setter Sheshenina gave her country a one-set lead.
Poland quickly pulled away in the second thanks to sharp serves as well as good work from their block (8-3). But again the Poles began to doubt, when Russia came back to 8-9. Then Dziekiewicz was prominent at the net, Glinka spiked athletically on the left, and Skowronska scorched one through on the right for 13-8. Merkulova got going for Russia, and a breakdown in the Polish attack enabled Sheshenina to set one on a plate for Kulikova to smash home. When Safronova missed a service reception, the Russians were in trouble at 17-19. But five points in a row for the Russian squad inversed the score at 22-19. Safronova maintained the pressure by smashing one over on the left, bringing up set point, and, thanks to a Polish service fault, a 2-0 lead in the race to Beijing.
Twenty errors in the first two sets obliged Polish head coach Marco Bonitta to change tactics. He slightly modified his starting order to take an 8-6 lead in the first technical timeout when Glinka scored from the back row. When Alimova sent it out of bounds, and Zenik defended fearlessly, Poland moved to 11-6. Leading even 16-8 at the second timeout, the Polish block continued to pile up the points. Safronova was learning some important lessons as she was the subject of a ferocious Polish block. Giovanni Caprara changed setters, but it was already too late. Poland’s fighting spirit and the frenetic support from the Polish fans helped them to bounce in heaven, suddenly playing like winners. Dziekiewicz finished it in the middle, 25-11 Poland!
Podolec and Skowronska quickly added some points on the Polish account early in the fourth set, forcing Caprara to react at 1-4 with a first timeout. In reply, Glinka creamed one down the middle, before Gamova brought up two service winners to level it at 6-6. Poland led again 8-6 at the first technical timeout, and not even the livewire Russian Libero Kabeshova could come close to digging another steeply angled spike from Glinka, who was launching a personal crusade to make it to a fifth set. A Podolec spike out of bounds took Russia to 16-14 and then to 18-14. Incredibly, the Poles rallied to 19-19, and Glinka and Skowronska came up with some big points to move Poland even in front, 22-20. Skowronska hammered one over to end it 25-22.
In the tie break, Liktoras blocked Poland into a 3-1 lead, and then Glinka swatted one down the right for 4-1 and a Russia timeout. Gamova replied immediately, before Skowronska popped up on the right for 5-3 with another venomous attack. When Borodakova blocked for 5-5 and Shashkova scored on the left, Bonitta called timeout. But without success, the Russian wall suddenly was insuperable with four block winners in a row, 10-5 Russia! Glinka tried to lift Poland with a wristy swat on the left for 7-12, Dziekiewicz on the net and Zenik in defense came closer at 11-13. But Gamova brought match point on the right and then ended it, again, professionally (15-12).
Marco Bonitta, head coach Poland: "We gave it everything and never gave up fighting for the victory. Unfortunately, it was not enough, but today there was very little difference between the World Champions and ourselves, and that makes me optimistic for the future. We now have one more chance to qualify for the Olympic Games and I believe that, with the kind of performance we have given so far in this tournament, we can be hopeful of making it to Beijing."
Giovanni Caprara, head coach Russia: "I am very proud with my side's victory. After a very complicated qualification tournament, we have managed to book our place for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It was a very good performance from my team and we have won all five games here, which is something I am particularly proud about. Today's was a very tough game against Poland, but our blocking game paid off in the end!"
Women’s European Olympic Qualification Tournament
Halle, Germany: 15-20 January 2008
Pool A: Serbia, Russia, Romania, Croatia
Pool B: Germany, Poland, Turkey, Nederland
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
CRO – RUS 0:3 (19-25, 15-25, 12-25)
POL – GER 3:2 (22-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-19, 15-8)
ROU – SRB 2:3 (27-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-25, 11-15)
Thursday 17 January 2008
TUR – NED 3:1 (16-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-19)
SRB – CRO 3:1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22)
ROU - RUS 1:3 (21-25, 24-26, 25-21, 14-25)
Friday 18 January 2008
TUR - POL 1:3 (29-27, 16-25, 26-28, 20-25)
RUS – SRB 3:1 (25-17, 23-25, 32-30, 25-20)
GER - NED 1-3 (25-22, 25-27, 15-25, 23-25)
Saturday 19 January 2008 - Semifinals
RUS – GER 3:0 (25-15, 25-23, 25-17)
POL – SRB 3:1 (22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-22)
Sunday 20 January 2008 - Final
RUS – POL 3:2 (25-23, 25-22, 11-25, 22-25, 15-12)
5. The Netherlands