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Men's World Champs qualifiers running at full speed in Europe

Jaanus Nommsalu was one of the home side's top scorers as Estonia edged Belarus on the opening day of the first-round World Championship qualifier in Rakvere
Luxembourg, May 24, 2013 – Six qualification tournaments are taking place this weekend in Europe for what is the very first stage of the 2014 FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship. The winners will advance directly to the third round scheduled for early January 2014 while the second-ranked will continue their quest for a World Championship slot via the second round coming up in October.

In Pool A the hosts of Croatia started their World Championship campaign on Friday in Zagreb by edging their opponents from Azerbaijan 3:1 (25-16, 23-25, 25-19, and 25-17). In spite of the victory, head coach Igor Simuncic was not too happy with the way the game unfolded as Azerbaijan was able to make things more difficult than it was expected for the local heroes.
Everything looked easy for Croatia after a speedy opening set (25-16) but as they were leading 20:17 in the second, the Croatian players relaxed too early and Azerbaijan could flip the charts around (23-25). However, Croatia got back control of the operations taking set 3 and 4 to claim their first win in the tournament with Ivan Raic top scoring with 24 points.
In the other match of the day the Netherlands needed only 62 minutes to edge Bosnia and Herzegovina in straight sets (25-14, 25-23, and 25-14). The Netherlands did literally dominate the scene right from the start of the game conceding only 14 points to their opponents in the first set; the game was much closer in the second set where the “Oranjes” had the upper hand at 25-23 but the Netherlands got back in full swing in set 3 finishing it off in only 18 minutes for another 25-14.

Slovenia and Moldova claimed their first matches at the first-round qualification tournament – Pool B running this weekend in Ljubljana. Slovenia beat Israel 3:1 (25-21, 25-16, 20-25, and 25-22), while Moldova got past Hungary with the same score (3:1; 25-18, 25-22, 28-30, and 25-18). Slovenia’s head coach Luka Slabe was satisfied with the win, but not with the performance. “We still have many reserves in all elements of the game. We will play Hungary tomorrow, which is probably a better team than Israel. We definitely need to play better.” Israeli head coach Zohar Bar Netzer stressed the team wasn’t in the best shape, but added it was a good performance against the favourite of the group, Slovenia.
The head coach of Moldova Artur Romascan said his team was better technically, while his first setter Marin Lescov added: “We came here to Slovenia to do a good job, although we have a young team. We didn’t start well, but during the match our performance improved. This is a very good result for us and our country.”

In Pool C the local heroes of Estonia and their neighbors from Latvia scored a couple of wins on the first day of the qualifier taking place this weekend in Rakvere. Estonia edged Belarus 3:1 (25-23, 20-25, 25-17, and 25-21) while Latvia cruised past Denmark in three straight sets (25-20, 26-24, and 25-23).
Four Estonian players ended the game in double digits as Martti Juhkami shined with 20 points for the winners, Oliver Venno, Ardo Kreek and Jaanus Nõmmsalu added 15, 13 and 11 respectively to the count of the home side. Siarhei Antanovich scored 19 points for Belarus.
“The players from Belarus are taller than us but our technical skills were better. It was mostly our determination that helped us win this match. We can’t underestimate our next opponent Denmark because they put up a great fight against Latvia” Estonia’s top scorer Martti Juhkami said.

In what was an extremely important game to determine the fate of these teams in the qualification process for the 2014 FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship, Romania beat Austria in straight sets (25-23, 25-19, and 29-27) on the second day of action for Pool D in Kortrijk. After they lost to Belgium on Thursday, the chances for the Austrian players to finish at least as runner-up in the Pool to make it to the second round scheduled for next October look minimized.

The home guys of Sweden edged Iceland in straight sets (25-16, 25-18, and 25-15) in their opening game of Pool E taking place in Halmstad. To open the program of that tournament Greece needed five sets to eventually get the upper hand against a very solid Norwegian team (25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 25-21, and 15-9). “We know where we stand because we have been playing together for the last couple of weeks, so we know what we are capable of. These games are nevertheless not easy but I think everything was ok tonight even though we were not supposed to concede so many points to Iceland” Jakob Wijk Tegenrot, Sweden’s outside hitter, said. “This was a good way to warm up for the remainder of the tournament and it will be interesting to play Norway tomorrow as they have pushed Greece to five sets this afternoon. We need to get a good result to play for first place in the group on Sunday as we cross our ways with Greece” he continued.

The hosts of the F.Y.R. of Macedonia and Ukraine caught a good start of their World Championship campaign as they claimed their first matches in the first-round qualifier – Pool F running this weekend in Skopje. The local heroes did cruise past Albania in three straight sets (25-19, 25-15, and 25-19) while Ukraine needed four sets to edge Montenegro (25-20, 27-25, 23-25, and 25-20). The F.Y.R. of Macedonia did have a relatively easy task with Albania and set the pace of the game all the way through to a 3:0 win paced by team captain Nikola Gjorgiev who scored 22 points. Ukraine, the pre-favorite to finish first in the group, went off to a flying start in their game with the guys from Montenegro. Though they had some ups and downs, the Ukrainians could keep full control of the game and cruise to a well-deserved 3:1 win.

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