Belgrade, Serbia, July 24, 2009 – It’s time for the semifinals of the 2009 World League at Belgrade Arena (Beogradska Arena), where Brazil, Cuba, Russia and host Serbia entered the medal matches after the elimination of USA and Argentina. Russia and Brazil meet in the first Final Four encounter at 5:30 p.m. (local time) Saturday, while Serbia and Cuba will play the late match at 8:30 p.m. It will be the fourth semifinal appearance in a row for Russia after two years away from the World League in 2004 and 2005. Brazil, meanwhile, has reached the semis every year since 1999. Cuba won bronze in 2005, but hasn’t cracked the Final Four since. Serbia brushed off a disappointing 9th place in 2007 with a silver medal last year in the Rio de Janeiro finals.
BRAZIL – ARGENTINA 3-0
Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-20) to secure first place in Pool F at the 2009 World League Final Six tournament on Friday. Brazil needed only 22 minutes to win the first set and while Argentina showed great desire in the second frame, their valiant effort was still not enough as they fell two sets in the hole with a 25-22 loss. Brazil wrapped up the match with a 25-20 third-set win to send Argentina packing from the tournament while cementing their credentials as the team to beat in the semifinals, which begin Saturday.
Brazil took the lead at the beginning of the first set with the same enthusiasm they showed in beating Cuba a day earlier. Both teams played with enthusiasm early on, but it was the Brazilians who were more successful. At 6-2 for the Brazilians, Argentina coach Javier Weber called for a timeout. Argentina won the next point but by the first technical timeout, Brazil still maintained an 8-3 advantage. Argentina won three points in a row before the teams traded points back and forth with Brazil clinging onto their lead throughout. A service error from Argentina's Gabriel Garcia Guillermo allowed Brazil to go into the second technical timeout with a 16-12 lead. After some brilliant play, both teams were guilty of making mistakes from the service area. Bruno Rezende served a few good points to give Brazil a 21-16 lead. An Argentina service mistake gave a set point to Brazil, and still another Argentine serving error gave the hosts the set. Despite dropping the frame, Argentina's Gabriel Garcia Guillermo was the player of the match so far, scoring 5 points on 11 attempts.
Brazil continued with the same tempo in the second set, although Argentina improved their play considerably to prevent their opponents from running away with the set. At the first technical time out, Brazil held a slim 8-6 advantage, and not long after Argentina enjoyed their first lead, 9-8. With far fewer service errors, the teams traded points until the second TTO, with Brazil up 16-15. Argentina played even better as the set wound to a close, but had to call a timeout after two consecutive points gave Brazil a 23-21 lead. Brazil gained the set point after an unsuccessful Argentine block, and converted it for a two-set advantage.
Bernardo Rezende's team jumped out to an 8-3 lead by the first TTO in the third set, but some great serves from Alejandro Spajic reduced the advantage to 9-8. Sidao restored order for the Brazilians, however, serving three points in a row to make it 15-9. Brazil enjoyed a 16-11 gap at the second TTO and stretched the lead to 19-12, forcing Weber to call a timeout. That was followed by the most beautiful point of the match, won by Argentina after a long rally. Argentina continued to fight and Facundo Conte gave the visitors hope when he saved the first match point and then serve to make it 24-20, but his service error gave the set and match to Brazil after an hour and 12 minutes of play.
“Every time we play against Argentina it is so difficult,” said Brazilian captain Giba in the press conference following the match. “They have good defense and are a good attacking team and we have to be careful playing them. I think we were concentrated on how dangerous they are and we played well, better than yesterday.”
RUSSIA – SERBIA 1-3
A prestigious match between two great opponents, Serbia and Russia, decided first place in Pool E with both teams already secure in the knowledge that they had obtained berths in the 2009 World League semifinals. Serbia beat Russia 3-1 (25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21) to finish first the Pool and set up a meeting with Cuba, while Russia will have the daunting task of playing Brazil for a shot at reaching the final.
After 26 minutes of play, Serbia won a difficult first set 25-23 thanks to some brilliant play. Perhaps a little bit unexpectedly, Serbia also won the second set by the same score. The third set ended with the same result, only this time Russia was victorious after 25 minutes of excellent play from both teams. The fourth and final set was claimed by Igor Kolakovic's team to seal the win and first place in the standings.
The match started on even footing with both teams trading points until the first technical timeout, with Russia leading 8-7. Russia took a 2-point advantage at 11-9 before stretching it to 16-13 at the second TTO. But Ivan Miljkovic broke through the Russian defense to win Serbia’s 14th point and Andrija Geric's great serve leveled the score at 18-18. Serbia then took the lead (23-20) with some successful serves from Borislav Petrovic. Miljkovic smashed home for the first set point, which wasn't realized. But the second one was, again thanks to Miljkovic. Serbia’s Milos Nikic was the top scorer of the set with 6 points in 12 attempts.
Serbia continued with the same enthusiasm from the previous set, winning the first two points. Russia battled back to make it 7-4 and took an 8-6 lead into the first TTO. Russia regained its 3-point advantage (12-9) thanks to an ace from Maxim Mikhaylov, but Serbia stepped it up to level the score at 12. Russia came out of the second TTO with a 16-14 advantage, but were soon trailing 17-16 thanks to a successful serve from Marko Podrascanin and a block from Nikola Grbic. Kolakovic called a timeout at 20-20 and Serbia won the next point. That set the stage for captain Grbic to achieve set point, which Evgeny Sivozhelez spiked out to give Serbia a 2-0 set lead.
Daniele Bagnoli’s team took a slight advantage (5-4) early in the third frame, and led 8-5 at the first TTO. Three straight points for Russia (11-6) led Kolakovic to call a timeout. But this time the Russians held on to the lead, pushing the score to 15-12 before Bagnoli signaled for a timeout. The Blue Boys of Serbia took advantage of the break and came back to within a single point, 17-16. At 21-21, Nikola Kovacevic made a service error to hand Russia their first set point, which they realized on the next point.
Russia led 3-0 and 7-4 in the fourth frame, but some terrific serves from Grbic turned things around and Serbia held an 8-7 lead by the first TTO. The score continued to seesaw from there on in, but Serbia maintained its lead, 16-15, heading into the second TTO. Serbia took a 23-19 lead after several excellent serves from Miljkovic. At 24-20, Serbia had the first match point, but they were unable to realize it. The match finally ended 25-21 for Serbia, with Miljkovic winning the final point.
“I have to say Serbia played tonight with all its heart and soul,” said proud Serbian coach Igor Kolakovic. “And a very important factor was this wonderful audience in the arena. The crowd raised us. I am very pleased how we played toward the end of each set, we didn't quit at any point.”
Match descriptions, press conferences and free photo for media purposes are available at www.fivb.org
Former Italian Volleyball world champion Andrea Zorzi is in Belgrade to blog on the FIVB website with his project “Follow Me.” A click away from the FIVB homepage, “Follow Me” will track all the technical and backstage aspects of the World League Final Round with videos and articles. An interview with the former Olympic champion Vladimir Grbic will be on line on Saturday. All the press conferences are available as well on video.
1. Serbia 6 pt
2. Russia 3
3. USA 0
1. Brazil 6 pt
2. Cuba 3
3. Argentina 0
RESULTS AND MATCH SCHEDULE
Wednesday, July 22
Argentina – Cuba 1-3 (22-25, 25-22, 24-26, 24-26)
Serbia – USA 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-22)
Thursday, July 23
Cuba – Brazil 1-3 (18-25, 25-23, 17-25, 19-25)
USA – Russia 0-3 (22-25, 22-25, 23-25)
Friday, July 24
Brazil – Argentina 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-20)
Russia – Serbia 1-3 (23-25, 23-25, 25-23, 21-25)
Saturday, July 25
17.30 hrs: Brazil - Russia
20.30 hrs: Serbia - Cuba
Sunday, July 26
17.00 hrs: Bronze medal match
20.00 hrs: Gold medal match