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Belgium win Group 2 Finals to progress to upcoming Final Six

The "Yellow Tigers" celebrate after writing a piece of history on Saturday night in Koszalin with their victory in the final match of the World Grand Prix Group 2 Finals
Koszalin, Poland, August 16, 2014 – The “Yellow Tigers” added on Saturday night another chapter to their fairy tale. In what is only their first participation in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, they edged past their neighbours from the Netherlands at the end of a dramatic match (3-2; 20-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-27, 15-10) to claim the final of Group 2 at Hala Widowiskowo – Sportowa in Koszalin and this way also the highly coveted ticket to the Final Six coming up next week at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, Japan.

The bronze medallists from last year’s European Championship will finally measure up their skills with the “big guns” in the global arena, including two-time Olympic champions Brazil and hosts Japan. MVP Lise Van Hecke was the real match winner for Belgium as she finished the match with a terrific tally of 41 points, only one short of the record-breaking performance set in this year’s World Grand Prix by Korea’s superstar Kim Yeon-Koung.

• If they win a medal next week in Tokyo, Belgium will be the first rookies to achieve this feat since Serbia claimed bronze in their World Grand Prix debut season back in 2011.

• Belgium may become the first rookies to seize the crown of the World Grand Prix since Cuba won the inaugural edition of this FIVB competition held in 1993.

• On Saturday Belgium avenged their 0-3 defeat to the Netherlands from last week’s Pool O matches in Doetinchem (NED) as well as the 2-3 home loss they had suffered a week before in Leuven. • Belgium improved their win-loss record in this year’s World Grand Prix to 9-2.

• Belgium’s scoring machine Lise Van Hecke added another 41 points to her personal tally, thereby bringing the total combining Intercontinental Round and Final Four to 246.

The Dutch started the match very strong and at 3-0 Belgium coach Gert Vande Broek already called his first time-out. With this short break his team regained focus and they tied the score at 5-5 and the play continued on a point-by-point basis, with the Belgians staying slightly ahead. At 11-8 for the opponents, Dutch coach Gido Vermeulen stopped the game, a move that his team clearly needed, since a few minutes later they managed to tie the score at 12-12 and then to take the lead (16-13 at the second technical time-out). The Dutch remained ahead, and even though the Belgians kept pushing (they briefly tied the score at 19-19) they took the first set 25-20.

The Netherlands carried the momentum from the previous set and quickly jumped ahead to 5-2 at the beginning of the next one. The Belgians regained focus after a time-out and scored three unanswered points levelling the score at 5-5. The score stayed very close for the majority of the set, but with Ilka Van De Vijver serving amazingly the Belgians jumped ahead to 20-17. Nevertheless, the Netherlands regained control and quickly caught up, serving the fans gathered in Koszalin a very exciting ending of the set. The Belgians showed more determination and they were the ones celebrating in the end (25-23).

The “Yellow Tigers” continued with their solid performance and took the lead 5-1 at the beginning of set 3, though after a slightly worse period on their side, with a series of unanswered points the Dutch tied the score and then moved to the front (15-9). Belgium clearly lost focus and made a lot of unforced errors. Once they recovered they were the ones scoring points in series and managed to level the score at 16-16. The score stayed close till the end of the set, eventually won by the Belgians 25-23.

In set 4 the play continued on a point-by-point basis. Neither team was able to gain a bigger advantage, as both were extremely focused, showing volleyball of the finest level. The Belgians took the lead in the middle stage of the set (16-14 at the second mandatory stop, then 18-14) forcing Vermeulen to call time-out. His team recovered and got closer at 20-21, once again giving the fans a lot of emotions. After a true volleyball thriller the Dutch proved how strong they are both physically and mentally and took the set 27-25 to stay in the match.

The tie-break was close from the very beginning as neither team gained the desired advantage. The Dutch managed to do so for the first time at the side switch (8-6), but the Belgians tied the score again at 9-9. After that they were the ones taking the lead in the decisive part of the set to finally start their party (15-10) for another unprecedented result in the history of the sport in their home country.

Individual Awards

MVP: Lise Van Hecke (BEL)
Best opposite player: Judith Pietersen (NED)
Best middle blocker: Quinta Steenbergen (NED)
Best wing spiker: Celeste Plak (NED)
Best setter: Frauke Dirickx (BEL)
Best libero: Valerie Courtois (BEL)

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