Brazil too good for Bulgaria as they advance to 13th final
The win, Brazil’s 11th in 13 matches in this year’s World League, continued Brazil’s impressive World League record against Bulgaria which now stands at 18:3, including two 3-1 wins during the Intercontinental Round in Brasília.
Brazil and Bulgaria had met six times in previous World League Finals, but never in the semifinals and although Brazil had won the first four of these encounters, Bulgaria had won the last two in 2006 and 2007).
But Brazil, who had beaten Canada on Friday to qualify for the semifinals, were definitely on a mission as it turned out to be a battle of the setters with Brazil’s Bruno and Bulgaria’s Georgi Bratoev, who shared the lead in the individual setters category prior to the match, having outstanding games.
With middle blocker Isac starting for the first time in the Finals, they charged to a 10-7 lead after Lucarelli blocked Bulgarian powerhouse Tsvetan Sokolov before advancing to 22-11 as Bulgaria, who had reached consecutive World League semifinals for the first time in World League history, looked desperately amongst themselves for some inspiration. Their receiving, passing and attacking accuracy all going astray. Wallace, who would go onto to top score in the game with 24 points, was particularly impressive registering seven as a beautiful floating serve from Bruno sealed the first set, Brazil’s 1,000th in World League history.
The second set was a similar picture with the nine-time World League champions keeping Bulgaria scoreless while registering four themselves. Bulgaria’s major attacking weapon and top scorer in the competition Sokolov finally got last year’s fourth placed team – their best ever World League result – on the board. The rest of the set went with ebbs and flows as skipper Todor Aleksiev closed the gap to 7-5 with a delicious spike down the line but Wallace helped extend the lead out to 14-9 with a smashing cross court kill. Wallace and Bruno were guilty of miscommunication soon after when a set went unattended at 15-11 but that only sparked the world champions into action, who rattled off three points before it was soon set point. Despite a challenge from Bulgaria, Brazil had the second set 25-17.
Bulgaria led for the first time since the first point of the match when Aleksiev sent down an ace to lead 1-0 before Valentin Bratoev put the Brazilian reception under enormous pressure with outstanding serving. Bulgaria led 8-4 and 9-5 when Georgi Brateov blocked Lucarelli. The lead went out to 11-5 before Brazil fought their way back to 18-16 down. In a big call, Bulgaria coach Camillo Placi subbed off Sokolov and when Svetoslav Samunev spiked into the net and then was called for a double touch, it looked to be the wrong one however, Bulgaria did enough to keep their noses ahead as Aleksiev spiked off the block to take the match to the fourth set. Dante, who suffered a knee injury in the penultimate rally of the set, stood out the rest of the match.
The fourth set started more even than any of the previous three as, with the score at 8-7, Placi brought on his bench looking for a way to unsettle the favourites. However Bernardinho did the same and it brought immediate dividends for Brazil. Bruno serving they rushed out to a 12-7 lead thanks to Wallace who was on fire. Danail Milushev finally converted a cross court spike to break the run but Brazil were back on a roll, soon leading 16-9. Although Aleksiev tried to inspire his troops with some devastating spiking and deft touches it was to no avail as Lucarelli wrapped up the match with his 15th point of the game.
For Brazil, it was their eighth win 11 World League semifinals to set up a final encounter with world No. 2 Russia while Bulgaria are still to win one of their four semifinals.