Belgian outsiders shock pre-favourite Norwegians in Portoroz
The Belgians went into the competition as underdogs but made it to the final and upset favourites Norway, thereby finishing the event in first place.
Belgium and Norway progress to the third stage of the Continental Cup, which is scheduled for next year. Slovenia, Scotland and Northern Ireland completed the stnadings and will have to re-start their campaigns later this summer with the second round coming up in August/September.
Norway v Slovenia 2-0
Norway and Slovenia opened the programme of the men’s competition on Sunday. Iver Andreas Horrem and Geir Eithun – two players who have been on the World Tour for many years – showed their class in the first set of their match with home heroes Jure Peter Bedrac and Danijel Pokersnik (21-16). However, the Slovenians fought their way back to delight the local fans and ultimately won the second set by 23-21. Still, Horrem and Eithun got back control of the game in the third set (15-10) and brought the first point to their country.
"We can be satisfied with what we did today," commented Danijel Pokersnik, "and also with the performance of Slovenia’s national team in this tournament. With the only exception being the first set, we played at the same level as two accomplished players like Horrem and Eithun. I think it was a matter of experience and that determined the outcome of both matches today. Now we have to focus on the second round which is coming up in August or September and try to make the third stage of the Continental Cup."
Slovenia’s top team Nejc Zemljak and Jernej Potocnik played their best match of the tournament as they tested Norway’s Oivind Hordvik and Bjarte Usken. Though the home pair were able to keep the score very tight from the start to the end, they eventually lost the match by 19-21, 22-24 and Norway went on to the final of the tournament.
"I have seen players from Slovenia in action even before this competition and I know that they are technically very good," Oivind Hordvik commented. "I am happy that we won this match today. It is always difficult to play against the home team and today they got a lot of support from their fans," added the player who last week participated in the European Championship Final with his regular partner Morten Kvamsdal.
Belgium v Scotland 2-0
Belgium’s Bob Douwen and Robin Adriaensen opened the second semifinal with Scotland with a speedy 21-10, 21-13 victory to rout Graham Riddle and Barry McGuigan. Slovenian-born Aljosa Urnaut and his partner Dennis Deroey then followed with a 21-17, 21-19 victory over Seain Cook and Robin Miedzybrodzki to claim the second spot for the final of the tournament in Portoroz.
Norway v Belgium 1-2
Urnaut and Deroey set the tone for an exciting final as they claimed the first set of their match-up with Horrem and Eithun (22-20). After being caught by surprise, the Scandinavians played better and better winning the second set by 21-18. They claimed an early two-three point lead and they did not relinquish it up to the end. Still Urnaut and Deroey were not too impressed by the show of strength displayed by their opponents, regrouped and sensationally won a close third set by 15-13.
Hordvik and Usken brought Norway back on track with a 21-15, 21-15 victory in their match with Douwen and Adriaensen.
A third match was then played to determine the winner of the tournament. Deroey and Urnaut were back in action, once more taking on Horrem and Eithun. Another tight first set unfolded and once more the Belgians had the upper hand at 22-20. That somehow shocked the Norwegians who could no longer change the course of the game. Urnaut blocked almost every attack attempted by the Scandinavians and Deroey played just great in defence to set the tone for a 21-15 set win that propelled Belgium into the top position of the final standing.
"In the first set we thought we were not going to bring it home and we were probably going to lose the match as well," Aljosa Urnaut said. "We had claimed a small lead of two or three points, but we made too many mistakes, our opponents clawed back and they even had a set ball. We had to concentrate on every single point and luckily in the end the first set went our side. After that I think that Horrem and Eithun were quite tired and so they could no longer keep up with our tempo," added Urnaut, who has Slovenian citizenship as well. "I came here straight after the end of the volleyball season, but if I only could play beach volleyball professionally and could get the right support from our Olympic committee, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment and would immediately make the switch to the sand.”