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Ten World Champs qualifiers underway, pre-favorites live up to expectations on opening day

 
Belgium's rising star Sam Deroo in action for the "Red Dragons" that on Friday started their quest for a ticket to the 2014 World Championships with a stunning straights set victory over former European champions Spain
Luxembourg, Luxembourg, January 3, 2014 – A very busy weekend for FIVB Volleyball World Championship European qualifying got underway on Friday with 10 tournaments whose results will determine the final composition of the European contingent for the 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championships scheduled for September/October in Poland and Italy for men and women respectively.

With the host countries already pre-qualified together with the gold and silver medalists from the 2013 European Championships (Russia and Italy for the men, Russia and Germany in the women’s division), there are another six and seven berths still at stake for the Men’s and Women’s World Championships respectively.

The actions got underway on Friday in ten different venues and no major surprises were registered on the first competition day, with the only exception being the straight defeat suffered by the Czech men’s national team in their home debut against the Netherlands. In the men’s division the winners of the five third-round qualifiers plus the second ranked team with the best score across all Pools will book a ticket to Poland 2014 (September 3-21) while in the women’s division the sides topping the charts of each Pool will be joined by the two second-placed teams with the best score to fill in the European vacancies for the event scheduled for September 23-October 12 in six Italian cities.

Men

The third-round World Champs qualifier – Pool I got started on Friday in Opava with Bulgaria easily downing Cyprus in three sets (25-18, 25-19, and 25-5) before the hosts of the Czech Republic suffered a major setback as they lost in straight sets to the Netherlands (14-25, 19-25, and 33-35). With this defeat, the chances of the home side to make it to the 2014 Worlds look already quite compromised even though another two rounds remain before completion of the tournament.

In Pool J, though they did not perform their best the home heroes of Serbia opened the World Champs qualifier that is taking place at the Cair sports hall in Nis with a straight victory over their neighbors from the F.Y.R. of Macedonia (25-22, 25-22, and 25-23). Serbia’s head coach Igor Kolakovic was not happy at all with the performance of his guys and on Saturday the 2013 European bronze medalists will have a tough test as they take on Slovenia that opened the tournament on Friday afternoon by edging Portugal 3:1 (20-25, 25-19, 25-21, and 25-21). The match will be a remake of the game Serbia and Slovenia played in the prelims of the 2013 CEV VELUX Volleyball European Championship in Herning where Slovenia had caused a sensation by edging the titleholders (3:1).

Moving to Pool K, Germany started out strong in their quest for making the Final Round of the 2014 FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship as they beat Croatia in straight sets (25-20, 25-13, and 25-21) at the MHP-Arena in Ludwigsburg on Friday afternoon. With 2,600 fans in attendance the players mentored by Belgian-born head coach Vital Heynen dominated the game from the start up to the end with their superstar Georg Grozer scoring 18 points while Croatia’s standout Igor Omrcen responded with 12. Later in the evening Turkey routed Estonia in straight sets too (25-19, 25-15, and 26-24) with Metin Toy and Emre Batur scoring 18 and 14 points respectively in their solid winning effort.

It was more difficult than some expected but France opened the World Championships qualifier – Pool L with a 3:1 victory (18-25, 25-23, 22-25, and 22-25) over Belarus in front of their crowd at Halle Carpentier in Paris. In the second game of the day in the French capital, Belgium shut out Spain in three straight sets (25-20, 25-19, and 25-21). France will face the Spaniards on Saturday, while Belgium will be looking for its second victory against Belarus, the two teams having met also during last year’s European Championship pool phase.

Slovakia and Finland got three points from their opening matches at the World Champs qualifier – Pool M in Poprad where the hosts opened their campaign beating Greece in straight sets (25-16, 25-21, and 25-21) while Finland got past Ukraine with the score of 3:1 (23-25, 25-20, 25-22, and 25-22). The tournament will continue Saturday with the second round where Slovakia is set to take on Ukraine and Finland will get to test the likes of Greece.

Women

The home heroines of Turkey could not ask for a better way to start their campaign to claim a spot in the Final Round of the 2014 FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship. On Friday they opened the program of their home qualifier – Pool I at the Baskent hall in Ankara by routing Cyprus in three straight sets (25-9, 25-9, and 25-12) in 57 minutes. Later in the evening Romania came back from behind to edge Ukraine in five sets (23-25, 26-24, 19-25, 25-21, and 15-12) to give something to celebrate to their Argentinean mentor Guillermo Gallardo who has been at the helm of the team for only two weeks.

The hosts of Azerbaijan and Serbia caught a very good start of their campaign at the World Champs qualifier – Pool J that is taking place this weekend in Baku. Serbia opened the program of the tournament on Friday afternoon as the bronze medalists from the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix beat Estonia in straight sets (25-21, 25-18, and 25-15) while the home heroines of Azerbaijan edged Israel 3:1 (25-15, 25-21, 19-25, and 25-15). Waiting for the much-anticipated showdown starring Serbia and Azerbaijan on Sunday that most probably will determine the winner of the tournament, Serbia on Saturday will play Israel before Azerbaijan takes on Estonia.

In Pool K, Poland and Belgium started their campaign for making the Final Round of the 2014 FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship at the Atlas Arena in Lodz with two straight victories over Switzerland and Spain respectively. With some of their most glorious players back in action the hosts easily disposed of the young Swiss team (25-14, 25-15, and 25-9) while last year’s European bronze medalist Belgium also did not find much resistance from a Spanish team that has undergone many changes in recent times (25-20, 25-18, and 25-12). The actions will continue Saturday as Belgium plays Switzerland and Poland gets to test the likes of Spain before the anticipated final showdown on Sunday where the red-and-white hosts will take on the Yellow Tigers.

Croatia and the Netherlands caught on Friday a very promising start of their campaign at the third-round World Champs qualifier – Pool L in Rovinj as they routed their respective opponents, France and Hungary, in straight sets. The “Oranjes” downed France 25-18, 25-18, and 30-28 while Croatia did not have any problems to claim their match with Hungary (25-20, 25-10, and 25-18) in what was also the debut of head coach Angelo Vercesi at the helm of the team. After taking on France and Hungary on Saturday, Croatia and the Netherlands will be crossing their ways on Sunday in a match that most likely will determine the final winner of the tournament.

The home heroines of Bulgaria started their quest for making it to the Final Round of the 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championship by edging Slovakia the opening game of the qualification tournament – Pool M that is taking place throughout this weekend at the Arena Samokov. The bronze medalists from the 2013 CEV Volleyball European League beat Slovakia 3:1 (25-13, 25-19, 24-26, and 26-24) to start their home campaign on a high note. Later in the evening, the Czech Republic beat Belarus in straight sets (25-20, 25-15, and 25-18) to confirm that the players around Italian-born head coach Carlo Parisi will be the toughest rival for Bulgaria on the way to the World Champs. The anticipated showdown between these teams is coming up on Saturday at 5:30 pm local time and will most probably determine the side that will finish on top of the charts at the end of the competition.

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