Continental Cup action gathers momentum
The other teams involved in the competition will continue their campaigns in the 2nd round, which takes place later this summer (venues and dates still to be determined). Round 1 will draw to a close next weekend with tournaments in Matosinhos (Portugal), Umag (Croatia), and Vilnius (Lithuania).
A week ago, Belgium caused a sensation in Portoroz topping pool B after edging pre-tournament favourites Norway in the final. As play resumed this weekend, a few additional surprises followed, starting with England’s home success in Bournemouth, where Jake Sheaf and Chris Gregory downed two experienced Swiss duos to take first place in pool D. Switzerland got back on track later on Sunday to rout the rookies from Ireland and seize the second ticket for direct access to round 3. Ireland - who debuted in the Continental Cup after missing the 2010/2012 edition - had previously upset Slovakia to finish the tournament held at LeAF Academy in third place.
Hosts Greece left their mark in Schinias, where they got the party started on Saturday after edging Belarus in the final for first place in pool E. The audience in attendance in the outskirts of Athens also witnessed a real sensation on Sunday as San Marino beat Romania to get the right to challenge Belarus for second place in the group. In the end, Belarus proved too strong for the young and inexperienced team from San Marino, but their performance will be remembered.
In pool F, Finland and Serbia upset the home fans in Kardzhali, Bulgaria, topping the charts and relegating the home heroes to third place, a fairly disappointing result for the local duos. Bulgaria and fourth-placed Albania will be back in action in round 2.
Baku also played hosts to the Continental Cup this weekend, hosting an international beach volleyball competition for the first time. Ukraine and Turkey lived up to their status of favourites for the two tickets to round 3. It was not as easy as expected for the two teams, however, especially for Turkey, who lost their first semifinal with Israel, but eventually claimed the re-match with the Israelis on Sunday.
England, who called on 2012 Olympians Zara Dampney and Savanah Leah, had to make do with third place in Bournemouth. They even had match balls in their first-place final with Sweden, but went on to lose the match. As play resumed on Sunday afternoon, they were also defeated by Slovakia, who claimed the second ticket to round 3.
In Schinias, Greece combined youth and experience to seize first place in pool E on Saturday. As the competition resumed on Sunday, Belarus took second place in the pool after a spectacular classification match against Romania.
The “Suomis” got something more to cheer about in Kardzhali, as their ladies also topped the charts in pool F. The Nyström twins and the up-and-coming duo of Riikka Lehtonen/Taru Lahti were too much for the home teams of Bulgaria, who nevertheless could be happy with second place.
Ukraine comfortably topped the standings in pool H. Surprisingly, Israel clinched second place, edging past Turkey and the relatively inexperienced teams from Azerbaijan, who will get another chance to qualify for round 3 later this summer.