Serbia beat Spain to qualify for World Championship
Serbia’s captain Uroš Kovačević topped the scorers’ chart with 20 points and Aleksandar Luburić contributed to the victory with 12, while Spain’s captain Andres J. Villena scored 10 and Alejandro Vigil added 9, including 7 blocks, in the losing effort of their side.
Serbia entered the match weakened by the absence of Čedomir Stanković who had injured his arm. Nevertheless, Siniša Reljić’s players started well their last game taking an early 4:1 lead. Spain quickly equalized to 4:4, but Serbia went to the first technical break leading 8:6. After that, the home side extended the lead to 12:7. Spain managed to regain some pace and narrow the gap to 3 points of difference before the second technical break (13:16). Spain continued to recuperate after the pause and as a result of their effort the score was leveled at 20:20. From that moment on the teams played point-for-point, but Serbia came first to the set ball at 24:23, and wrapped it up immediately to take the lead in sets.
In the first stage of the second set it was a fairly leveled game. After 9:9 on the scoreboard, Spain gained 3 points of advantage (12:9) and further extended the lead before the second technical break (16:12). Serbia slowly but surely started narrowing the gap, and ultimately the home side turned the score completely in their favor at 20:19. Dražen Luburić excellent serve and Aleksandar Okolić blocking kill then made it 21:19 for the hosts. It was a sufficient gap for Serbia who preserved it until the very end of the set (25-23).
The crowd could see more of the same in the third set: a great battle of two equal teams who most of the time played point-for-point. So, at the first technical time-out it was 8:7 to Serbia, but at the second one Spain was in front by one point (16:15). After an exciting finish, Serbia once again managed to edge their rivals and steal a narrow 25-23 for the precious victory and the top spot in the final standings.
Siniša Reljić, head coach of Serbia: “Before the start of the match I said to my guys that we are a better team. And I mean it. Carried by this wonderful crowd we could not lose today."
Uroš Kovačević, captain of Serbia: “I am overwhelmed, really. We beat a very strong team, the European vice-champions. It is as if we had won the World Championship. This crowd is really great and it is a wonderful feeling to be on the court playing for them."
Ricardo Maldonado, head coach of Spain: “I do not like the qualification system. Some of the best junior teams in the world, mostly from Europe, will not participate and it is a shame. As for the match, Serbia made less errors and that is what decided the winner."
Andres J. Villena, captain of Spain: “Bad luck for us today. It is a shame that only one goes to the World Championship. I think we also deserved to be there, but Serbia was a slightly better team in this match and they committed fewer mistakes than us."
In the first match of the last day Finland booked their second victory of the tournament edging the Czech Republic in straight sets (25-18, 25-20, and 25-19) after 80 minutes of play. Finland’s Elviss Krastins topped the scorers’ chart with 13 points, while Jan Galabov scored 9 for the Czechs.
After a close start Finland created a small gap and went to the first technical break leading 8:4. The distance was further extended through the second obligatory time-out to 16:11, and by the end of the first set the Finns had spread the margin to 7 points (25-18). In the second set, Finland got off to an early lead (8:3), but the persistent Czech team slowly but surely managed to close the gap to just one point of difference (20:21). However, Finland did not want to let this one slip away, and with four quick points they wrapped it up at 25-20 to double the lead in sets (2:0). In the third set Finland started in the same manner as in the previous one getting away to an 8:3 lead before the first technical time-out. The Finns routinely brought this game to an end at 25-19. However, their libero, Lauri Kerminen, had a misfortune injuring his ankle at 22:17, but luckily the nature of his injury is not severe.
Pekka Lahtinen, head coach of Finland, said: “I am satisfied, because this was our best match of the tournament. The whole team showed a pretty high level of Volleyball throughout the match. The Czechs were too tired in this game, especially their opposite, so they did not pose a very big threat to us. It is nice to end the tournament in this way."
Mauri Kurppa, captain of Finland: “Today we played our best attacking game, we were aggressive and we controlled the match. It is a well-deserved victory."
Petr Juda, head coach of the Czech Republic: “We were very bad in attack, and that was the key of this match. You cannot play defending the whole time."
Adam Zajicek, captain of the Czech Republic: “We prepared well for this match. I don’t know what happened. It is a pity we did not win, and I am very sorry for that. However, Finland was better in all aspects of the game, and they won fair and square."
In the second match of the day Slovakia overpowered Croatia 3:1 (19-25, 25-19, 25-16, and 25-21) after 102 minutes of play. Filip Gavenda of Slovakia topped the scorers’ chart with 17 points, including 4 blocks, while Leo Andrić scored 16 for Croatia.
Croatia started the match in a better way, getting off to a 5:3 and 8:6 lead before the first technical time-out. However, Slovakia quickly managed to level the score at 9:9. The teams played point-for-point until the second technical break (16:15 to Croatia) but then the Croats pushed forward creating a 4-point gap at 22:18. Slovakia could not recover, and Croatia went in front 1:0 in sets after winning the first period 25-19.
The second set started in the same fashion, but this time Slovakia went to the first technical break with an 8:6 lead. After that it was all about Slovakia who extended the lead to 16:10 at the second technical time-out, and then routinely wrapped up the set at 25-19 to equalize the match. Slovakia continued playing well in the third set. They got off to an early 3:0 lead, and then successfully maintained it through the second technical break (16:13). After the pause, the Slovaks stormed to a 25-16 to take a 2:1 lead in sets. In the fourth set Croatia was too exhausted to challenge the inspired Slovak team. They trailed by 3 to 4 points the whole time, and Slovakia ended the match at 25-21 with no major problems.
Miroslav Palgut, head coach of Slovakia: “It is important that we won the last match in the tournament. All players are tired but they are satisfied because they did their best and I congratulate them on their effort."
Adam Prielozny, captain of Slovakia: “It was a good tournament for us. We have a very young team and this was a valuable experience for these young guys who had the opportunity to play against strong teams like Serbia and Spain."
Miroslav Krunić, head coach of Croatia: “We were a little bit tired today. We started well, but we could not maintain the rhythm. I think we are a better team than Slovakia currently is, and I am disappointed with this loss."
Fran Peterlin, Croatia’s receiver: “We did not have any luck in attack today. The coach tried some tactical schemes but they did not work because we were too tired and we could not respond to his requests."