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NEWS

Bulgaria: first the cake, then the medal

 
Panoramic image of a stadium packed with fans and supporters in Poland
 

Lausanne, Switzerland, January 15, 2014 - The Bulgarian ladies volleyball team were presented with flowers and a cake by fans after qualifying for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014 for the first time for twelve years.

The men also secured their ticket for the highlight of the season, and were given a great welcome by enthusiastic fans at Sofia airport. Volleyball has played a major role in Bulgaria for decades, and so expectations – even those of the country’s leaders – are high ahead of the two championships this year.

“I am honestly happy that the personal efforts of each player and their will to win helped the team to qualify for the finals of World Championship in 2014. The fact that we have been among the best in the world for years is proof that we have a good academy – an academy with a bright future. I am more than sure that, thanks to the talent and persistence they possess, the teams could achieve anything,” said Plamen Oresharski, Prime Minister of Bulgaria.

His sports minister Mariana Georgieva was even more emphatic in her support of the two teams: “I wish them all the best as they look to confirm Bulgaria’s place among the leading volleyball nations in the world. Why not set our sights on a medal at the 2014 World Championship?”

On paper, the men’s national team probably has the best chance of achieving a notable success.

They have established themselves as a permanent fixture at the top of the international game. However, the team and their superstar Tsvetan Sokolov have finished in the thankless fourth place too often in recent times at the 2012 and 2013 edition of the FIVB World League, the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the European Championships last year.

This has only made the Bulgarian men even hungrier for a podium finish. “We will take part in the World Championship again, so we’ll keep going and striving for medals,” said Todor Alexiev. 

The team has played in 16 World Championships to date, only failing to qualify in 1960. Only Russia have made more appearances at the prestigious tournament. The highlight was winning silver in front of their home fans in 1970, as well as a further four bronze medals in 1949, 1952, 1986 and 2006. For this reason, qualifying was an absolute must. In doing so the team withstood the pressure to succeed, as well as other problems, to come through in a difficult group during the qualification tournament in the Czech city of Opava.

After a 3-0 win against Cyprus, and another against former Olympic champions the Netherlands in the penultimate match of the qualification tournament, all the Bulgarians had to do to qualify was to win the first set of the final game against the Czech Republic. Having achieved that goal, the team then took its foot off the gas and went on to lose 3-2 to the hosts.

“The European qualifiers in Opava were difficult for us, as we had a lot of problems, which were mostly medical issues. The ticket to the World Championship is our gift to the Bulgarian volleyball fans,” said coach Camillo Placi. “I was kind of worried, but the boys in the team did their best to ensure we were able to achieve our goal.”

The Bulgarian men will play in the FIVB World League in preparation for the FIVB World Championship in Poland from August 30 to September 21. The Pool B matches of the World League starts on May 23 and sees Bulgaria take on defending champions and Olympic champions the USA, as well as four-time runner-up Serbia.

The top two teams in these ‘super pools’ will qualify for the final round from July 16 to 20. “Our goals for the World Championship are to get good results and play well. However, we must take it step by step. I hope that we will perform to our highest level,” said outstanding point scorer Sokolov. “I hope we can all stay healthy and continue to show the same spirit as we have done to get to this point.”

After a number of difficult years, the ladies have rediscovered that special Bulgarian winning spirit. Having failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 editions, they secured their ticket to the FIVB World Championship for women in style, and will deservedly take their place in Italy from September 23 to October 12. The Bulgarians defeated the Czech Republic (3-0), Slovakia and Belarus (both 3-1) at the qualifying tournament, which took place on home turf in Samokov.

“I think we all have to be extremely happy with what the team has achieved. We have been waiting too long for this moment. This day was a very good day for Bulgarian women’s volleyball,” said Dancho Lazarov, President of the Bulgarian Volleyball Federation.

Player Dobriana Rabadzhieva added: “This is a historic achievement.” She was once part of the Bulgarian U19 team that finished fourth at the Junior World Championship and is now one of the pillars of the national team, along with former U19 teammates Elitsa Vasileva, Lora Kitipova and Hristina Ruseva.

Coach Marcello Abbondanza’s excellent work with the junior players has been key to the success of the national team. . “I am very proud of the team. We have been working together for three years. We have set some goals: to play in the World Grand Prix, where we achieved ninth place in 2013, and to qualify for this World Championship. The average age of the team is 23 years. We are a young team but we’ve achieved what we wanted,” said the Italian coach.

Last year’s appearance at the FIVB World Grand Prix showed just what the young team is capable of. They overcame several hot favourites and achieved notable victories against Olympic champions and eventual World Grand Prix winners, Brazil.

This year, the annual competition among the world’s best teams will once again provide a great opportunity for the team to find their top form. The Bulgarian’s opponents in the preliminary round are Kenya, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Australia. The Final Four tournament will be held in Bulgaria from August 15 to 17.

Victory would be the perfect tonic ahead of the World Championship, which will take place in Italy from September 23 to October 12. This will be the 11th time the Bulgarian ladies’ team will take part in the competition.

The team has not played at the finals since 2002, when they lost 3-0 to Russia in the quarterfinals. Their best results at the World Championship came in the form of two fourth places in 1952 and 1962. While Dobriana Rabadzhieva is already dreaming of their first medal, Strashimira Filipova’s thoughts are with the Bulgarian fans: “We only know the World Championship from TV. We will try to get a good result because we really want to make the Bulgarian fans happy.”

No doubt their fans would love the chance to thank their heroes and heroines with more celebratory cake.





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