Greece blend youth and experience in Continental Cup first round
The city of Schinias rose to international fame back in 2004 when it hosted the rowing and canoeing events of the Olympic Games. On Saturday and Sunday, the municipality of Marathon will be playing host to one of eight 1st round tournaments of the 2014-2016 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup.
The home teams of Greece will test the skills of their rivals from Belarus, Romania, San Marino and Malta. Belarus and San Marino – which is entering only the men’s competition – are making their debut in the Continental Cup after missing the inaugural edition which qualified one European team per gender for the 2012 London Olympics.
Though the sky has been cloudy for the past few days, all teams can look forward to the start of a memorable tournament. A brand-new beach volleyball court has been set up in Schinias and will be officially inaugurated on Saturday morning as the competition gets underway with the first set of matches. The home country will rely heavily on a very experienced duo, as Vasiliki Arvaniti and Maria Tsiartsiani – the silver medalists from the 2012 European Championships in The Hague – are back in action together after 18 months. Tsiartsiani had been out due to injury and is now returning after an additional break due to the birth of her first child.
"Maria and I know each other since many years," two-time European champion Vasiliki Arvaniti said. "So it was very easy for us to find back our chemistry on the sand. We still need to play more matches in order to reach our optimum. Maria hasn’t played for a long time: she was first injured and then had a baby, but our preparations have gone really well and I believe that we will find back our rhythm tournament after tournament. We want to start in the best way already tomorrow irrespective of the opponent we will get to play."
Apart from Arvaniti and Tsiartiani, Greece will also line up Panagiota Karagkouni and Evangelia Christou. Penny, as Karagkouni is also known, is the youngest player in the team and is only 21. Last year, she played at the European Championships with Arvaniti making the quarterfinals in Klagenfurt. In Schinias, she will make her debut alongside Christou. "It’s a totally new experience for us," she acknowledged, "especially since we do not know anything about our opponents here. We have to manage to adjust our tactics to the players we will get to play, and do our best to make it to the next round. Evi and I have been practicing together every day since one month but we have been working really hard. I think we do well as a team and I hope we will leave that same impression once we take to the court.”
Greece’s most experienced and decorated pair for the men’s competition is Georgios Kotsilianos and Nikos Zoupanis. These two guys have been playing together for quite some time and know each other very well. They recently participated in the FIVB Moscow Grand Slam in Russia. "It is very important that we perform well. We only know the teams from Belarus since they have participated in some international tournaments," Kotsilianos said. "I hope that a large crowd will attend our matches and that our fans will enjoy the tournament."
Fernandos Billiris used to play with Pavlos-Odysseas Kouzounis, but the latter was in a car accident about a month ago and Billiris will team up with Ioannis Roumeliotakis for the home tournament in Schinias. Together they hope they can make the difference for Greece: "We want to make the next round. We do not know much about the other teams and their level, so we focus on ourselves," Billiris said. "We have been together for a short time but we have been working hard and hope to see the result of that hard work. I think it does not really matter that we haven’t played official matches together going into this tournament; we only have to show what we are capable of. This is a great opportunity to develop our chemistry and to grow as a team."
Greece head coach Costas Tampouratzis said: "Our adventure on the way to Rio 2016 will start tomorrow. Our beach volleyball teams can make the Olympics, as well as compete at the World and European Championships, something that our national volleyball teams haven’t been able to achieve lately. This tournament is just the very beginning of the pre-Olympic season. We go for a good start. Back in 2010, at the same stage in the competition, our women finished first and the men second. I believe that our teams have improved a lot since. Whether our performance will be better than four years ago, that is a different story. It’s a good thing that we are hosting this tournament here in Greece and I hope we will get the same opportunity in one of the next rounds. We hope that many fans will come to see the matches and will support us with their positive energy."