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Belgian heroines claim historical bronze medal at EuroVolley 2013

Belgium celebrate their first medal in history of European Championships
Berlin, Germany, September 14, 2013. A total of 7,453 excited fans in Berlin’s Max-Schmeling-Halle saw Belgium claim the bronze medal at the 2013 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women. The squad of coach Gert Vande Broek overpowered Serbia in a marathon thriller 3-2 (23-25, 25-21, 28-26, 21-25, 15-11) to write history for world No. 39 Belgium. Best scorer of the breath-taking duel was exceptional Belgian opposite Lise Van Hecke with a total of 35 points.

Serbia jumped out for a quick 3-0 lead in the beginning of Saturday’s bronze medal match. Belgium’s head coach Gert Vande Broek immediately called his ladies off court to avoid an early deficit. Lise Van Hecke, Freya Aelbrecht and Hélène Rousseaux responded with three consecutive winners to draw level at 3-3. However, the ‘yellow tigers’ struggled with their passing to drop behind at the first technical timeout (5-8). Vande Broek sent in Els Vandesteene for Rousseaux, but it had no impact on the result. At the second technical break, Serbia was still up with five points, 16-11. On Serbia’s side, Jelena Nikolic and Jovana Brakocevic moved the scoreboard forward with relentless missiles through the Belgian defense. Brizitka Molnar smashed for a 22-18 Serbian lead. Van Hecke concluded a never-ending rally with a well-timed tip but could not prevent Natasa Krsmanovic from seizing the fourth set ball for Serbia (25-23). Five blocks compared to one made the difference for Serbia in the first set.

The titleholders continued their run in the second set. The young Belgians did their best to keep the distance as close as possible, but could not deal with the power and speed of the Serbian offense at that moment of the match. However, at 12-8, the Serbian rush came to an abrupt end. Belgium scored ten (!) consecutive points to make it 18-12. Poor Serbian passing and outstanding Belgian defense work were the two main reasons for the sudden turnover. Brakocevic saved a first Belgian set ball at 24-20, but could not stop the ‘yellow tigers’ to draw level with a burning Van Hecke winner from back row. 21-year old Van Hecke was the main protagonist of the second set, scoring nine times for the spirited Belgians. Belgium had improved their blocking to four kills in the second period while Serbia had dropped to a single block winner.

Both teams still experienced many ups and downs in the beginning of the third set. Serbia led by one point at the first technical break. Nevertheless, there was not much to separate the two teams until 20-20. Van Hecke, with a diagonal winner and a spectacular block kill on Nikolic, scored twice to make it 22-20 for Belgium. At 22-22, Rasic concluded a quick combination to draw level again. Van Hecke brought up set point for Belgium at 24-23 before Rasic, again, levelled the thrilling third set at 24-24. An Aelbrecht winner on the right side and a Brakocevic mistake from back row ended the third set in Belgium’s favour. Van Hecke (8 points) and Angie Bland (5) were the best scorers for Belgium. Brakocevic contributed 8 points for Serbia.

The hard-hitting battle continued in the fourth set. It needed all the power of Serbian superstar Jovana Brakocevic to keep the Serbian hopes alive. At the second technical timeout, the outgoing European champions led 16-14. Rasic opened the gap to three points at 21-18, forcing Vande Broek to ask for an additional break. It did not help as the Serbians never looked back. Brakocevic closed it out at 25-20 for the reigning champions with a searing winner from the left side. The Serbians had improved their passing to 43% in the fourth set.

Belgium regained momentum early in the fifth set (7-4). However, a Brakocevic block winner on Vandesteene and a sharp Rasic spike through the middle drew level at 7-7. No one could predict the winner at that crucial moment of the match. Van Hecke moved her team forward before Brakocevic fired back at 10-10. After a Krsmanovic mistake at 10-12, Serbia’s head coach asked for a timeout. It did not help as the Belgian express was unstoppable. An error by Serbian setter Maja Ognjenovic ended the hard-fought duel in Belgium’s favour, 15-11 and 3:2 in 132 minutes.

Serbia captain Maja Ognjenovic: "It is difficult to say why we lost. I think it was a tough match and both teams had the chance to win. At the end, Belgium was a little bit luckier. However, they deserve it."

Belgium captain Charlotte Leys: "It is an amazing feeling. It is the first time in history that a Belgium team has won a medal at European Championships. We gave everything we had to make our dreams come true.“

Serbia head coach Zoran Terzic: "Congratulations to Belgium. I think they deserved today's win. We made too many mistakes and struggled in attacking. This is not the characteristic of a Serbian team, but we will work hard to improve quickly."

Belgium coach Gert Vande Broek: "Yesterday, my players cried after our defeat versus Germany. Today they wrote history. However, it was only the beginning, we will continue on our way."

Russia as the first ranked team of the CEV Volleyball European Championship have qualified for the 2013 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup featuring a total of six teams per gender with the hosts Japan being joined by the continental winners from Asia, Europe, NORCECA and South America with an additional country selected by the FIVB.

With Germany and Russia, the two best-ranked teams of the 2013 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women as well as organizer Italy have qualified for the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship Italy 2013.

The five best-ranked teams of the 2013 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women as well as the organizers from Belgium and the Netherlands have qualified for the 2015 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women.

Individual Awards:

Fair Play Award: Gert Vande Broek (Belgium coach)
Best Spiker: Jovana Brakocevic (Serbia)
Best Blocker: Christiane Fürst (Germany)
Best Server: Margareta Kozuch (Germany)
Best Libero: Valerie Courtois (Belgium)
Best Receiver: Suzana Cebic (Serbia)
Best Setter: Ekaterina Pankova (Russia)
Best Scorer: Lise Van Hecke (Belgium)
Most Valuable Player: Tatiana Kosheleva (Russia)

Final Ranking:

1. Russia
2. Germany
3. Belgium

4. Serbia
5. Croatia
6. Italy
7. Turkey
8. France
9. The Netherlands
10. The Czech Republic
11. Poland 
12. Belarus
13. Bulgaria
14. Switzerland
15. Azerbaijan
16. Spain

CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women
Records of the last five editions

2011 in Italy/Serbia: Serbia (gold), Germany (silver), Turkey (bronze)
2009 in Poland: Italy (gold), the Netherlands (silver), Poland (bronze)
2007 in Belgium/Luxembourg: Italy (gold), Serbia (silver), Russia (bronze)
2005 in Croatia: Poland (gold), Italy (silver), Russia (bronze)
2003 in Turkey: Poland (gold), Turkey (silver), Germany (bronze)

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