Montenegro win first round of European League finals
After thier 3-2 away victory, Montenegro need just one more win in Budva to win this year's European League title. Greece, on the other hand, hope to repeat their semifinals performance, when they lost at home to Slovenia before bouncing back to claim the return game in Maribor.
In yesterday's match, and after a close start, Montenegro opened the gap moving the score to 13-10 in their favour. They did not look back to pocket the first set 25-18. The players around head coach Slobodan Boskan – a former Olympic and European champion – were flawless in attack and finished the first set with excellent figures, whereas only 44% of the spikes attempted by Greece were successful.
The second set followed the same plot but this time it was Greece’s turn to lead the way. Inspired by the 2,000 fans in attendance, the local heroes scored a series of straight points thereby moving the score from 10-7 up to 16-12. Anytime Montenegro attempted a comeback, it was home star Mitar Tzourits who took his side by the hand to keep control of the game. Still, the guests were able to cut their gap to one point at 21-20, but again Greece’s team captain finished every rally in the best way and the set ended at 25-22 Greece’s way on a service error by Bozidar Cuk.
The home side claimed an early lead in the third set (9-6) and at this stage Boskan decided to opt for a different setter-opposite combination, calling Simo Dabovic and Milos Culafic from the bench. They both helped their team fight back to 17-16; an ace by Menelaos Kokkinakis made it 19-16 for Greece and then two unforced errors by Montenegro widened Greece’s lead to 21-16. It did not take that long until the home side cashed the third set by 25-19.
Montenegro set the pace of the game right from the start of the fourth set but Greece eventually managed to tie the score at 20 all. Both teams sided out successfully up to 23 all and at that stage Greece were only two points away from a home victory. Montenegro’s team captain Vojin Cacic left his mark on the match as he finished the set at 25-23 with a terrific spike and an ace to bring on the tie-break.
Montenegro continued to play with the same intensity in the deciding fifth set, where serves by Gojko Cuk downed Greece’s defensive line and claimed a 4-0 run for the guests. The home heroes ran out of fuel and - not unlike what had happened in the first round of the semifinal with Slovenia - could no longer find their way back into the game. A one-sided tie-break ended at 15-6 for Montenegro.
“I would say that in general the quality we got to see tonight was very poor, also because we are well beyond the end of the season,” Greece’s head coach Sotirios Drikos commented. “We made some crucial mistakes and at the beginning of the match we just looked pathetic. After that we played three sets on a good level but we were unlucky in the final stages of the fourth set where we made some errors from the serving line. However, this is volleyball; there is another match coming up on Saturday in Budva and there we start from scratch. I am not thinking that we can repeat what we did in the semis with Slovenia. Every match is unique but this is the last game of the season and I want my players to enjoy it.”
“I am very satisfied and pleased because tonight we won against a great team,” Montenegro’s head coach Slobodan Boskan said. “I think Greece played very well in the second, third and also in the fourth set, but there we came back strong and we kept a good rhythm also in the tie-break. We have made one step forward but the story is far from being fully written. These teams have already showed their fighting spirit in the semis where we both came back after losing the first matches. So I expect another big fight also on Saturday in Budva. We are still far away from winning the European League. Right now the chances stand at 50:50.”