Great Britain overcome Albania in three sets in CEV European qualifier
With the temperature in the Albanian capital soaring, the GB guys knew that they were in for a real fight as the supporters bands struck up a cacophony of sound and set up the home team to hit the court with a barrage of high-flying attacks. This was a real test for the young GBR guys, who welcomed back the experienced, big-hitting Jason Haldane. He was able to steady the ship in the first set and keep them within striking distance. Matt Howe took over the libero duties, with captain Ben Pipes joined in the starting six by Joel Millar, Dami Bakare, Mark McGivern and Nathan French.
Two service aces in a row from Joel Miller – one hit at blistering speed, the other more subtle – brought GB level at 18-18. Yassir Sliti and Kieran O’Malley came on and combined well to save three setpoints. Birthday boy O’Malley fed his Borg-like pal Miller who exploded the ball into the home court to silence the home fans who had been sensing victory. Sliti added his own brand of two almost unplayable serves as GBR took the set 27-25.
GBR led by one or two points throughout the second set, and grew in confidence as hits from Haldane, French, Bakare and the red-bearded McGivern restored the rhythm that coach Harry Brokking was looking for. The GB boys, once again benefiting from the double addition of Sliti and O’Malley, finished off the set 25-23.
Just as “Team GB, Britain’s Greatest Team” rose at the Royal Albert Hall in London the previous night in the presence of GB coaching staff and captain Lynne Beattie from the GB women’s team, the GB men’s team were now in full flow, giving a Royal performance, totally focussed on keeping ahead in the game. When O’Malley set a super pipe for Nathan French, flying high to bash the ball into the Albanian taraflex with their defence left diving for cover, it was game set and match to GB, winning the final set 25-19 for a 3-0 victory.
Ylli Tomorri the experienced Italian Albania coach reflected on “his team’s missed opportunities in the tight first and second sets,” and vowed that they would make the return match next Saturday very tough for GB.
GB coach Arie Brokking praised the organisation of the match and felt it was a good test for his team. He was pleased that they had shown maturity and had managed to close out the final parts of both first and second sets, and find the rhythm in their play, which is an important aspect they had been working on. He also took time to warn his players that the tie was not over, and urged all GB Volleyball people to get along to the K2 Crawley next Saturday and get behind his team in the same way the Albanians got behind their team