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29/09/2013 16:40
Serbia crowns European campaign with bronze
2013 CEV VELUX Volleyball European Championship - Men

Copenhagen, Denmark, September 29, 2013. After a very slow start in the tournament, Serbia completed their comeback to win bronze at Parken stadium on the last day of the 2013 CEV VELUX EuroVolley. The young group captained by Dragan Stankovic did cruise to a straight victory (25-22, 32-30, and 27-25) over Bulgaria to follow up on the gold medal some members of the team had won two years ago in Vienna. Serbia won their tenth medal at the EuroVolley – by counting also those claimed by the former Yugoslavia and by the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2005 – to confirm its position among the real heavyweights of the sport in Europe. Aleksandar Atanasijevic – the real inheritor of former team captain Ivan Miljkovic – was once more the best player winning the duel with Bulgaria opposite Tsvetan Sokolov before these guys get to cross their ways once more later this season as they are both set to compete in the Italian national league.  

Click here for a comprehensive picture gallery of the final weekend at Parken stadium  

2011 European champions Serbia and Bulgaria crossed their ways in the bronze medal match of the 2013 CEV VELUX EuroVolley on Sunday afternoon at Parken stadium. Serbia had gone through ups and downs in the prelims losing their opening game to Slovenia and trailing 0:2 with the Netherlands before storming back to claim that game at the tie-break and sweep Finland in straight sets to finish second in Pool C. After that Serbia had downed hosts Denmark in three sets and then had ended Belgium’s dreams of glory in the 1/4 finals before losing to Russia 1:3 in the first semi on Saturday. Bulgaria, on the other hand, had settled for third place in the so-called “group of death” in Gdynia to continue their European campaign by shocking more than 10,000 fans in Gdansk as they beat home heroes Poland in a dramatic Playoff fixture. The guys mentored by Italian-born Camillo Placi were able to take their revenge after losing in pool play by edging Germany to make it to the semis where they caught a terrific start routing Italy in the first set before their opponents swept the three next sets to get the right to play Russia for gold.  

After finishing fourth at the 2012 and 2013 World League Finals as well as the London Olympics, this time Bulgaria really wanted to crown their campaign with a medal, the last dating back to 2009 as the group that by that time included also the likes of current team manager Vladimir Nikolov had won bronze at the European Championship in Izmir, Turkey. Thousands of fans had come together at Parken stadium for the final act of the CEV VELUX EuroVolley 2013 and Bulgaria first claimed a very narrow margin at 5:3. Many had predicted this would be a long and close game and Bulgaria had a slight edge in the early phases of the first set until Serbia got to the front at 15:14. Well marshaled by their young setter Nikola Jovovic, the guys from Serbia were displaying once more their unique fighting spirit to approach the final rush with an edge standing at three points (21:18). Still Bulgaria was able to cut the deficit to a minimum (21:20) thereby forcing Serbia mentor Igor Kolakovic into a time-out. Todor Skrimov added another ace to the count of the special contest promoted by title sponsor VELUX to make it 22 all, but Nikola Kovacevic responded by killing the next spike and acing for two set balls at 24:22. Serbia rising star Aleksandar Atanasijevic did not miss on the first opportunity for the 1:0 cashing that set ball with a terrific crosscourt (25-22).  

With a single block by Skrimov on Atanasijevic and Tsvetan Sokolov pocketing the next rally, Bulgaria stormed out to a 6:3 lead in the second set; another ace by Sokolov moved the charts up to 9:6 but Serbia was once more able to claw back to draw level at 13. A very good serve by Atanasijevic did shake Bulgaria’s defense line and Nikola Kovacevic was well ready to kill that ball at the net to make it 14:13 for Serbia’s first lead in the set. After setting the pace of the game at the second technical time-out (16:14), and with Bulgaria looking less consistent than in their absolutely phenomenal come-from-behind victory over Poland, the outgoing European champions could keep control of the game, winning also a challenge to make it 21:19. Once more Aleksandar Atanasijevic was the one who paced the Serbian offense but they missed out on two set balls to re-open the fate of the game. Serbia head coach Igor Kolakovic stopped the actions by the score of 24 all, Marko Podrascanin surged back for the 25:24 but Valentin Bratoev responded for the 25:25. He followed up on this action with an ace that prompted a Bulgarian set ball and yet another Serbian time-out, Atanasijevic found a block-out to restore the balance, Sokolov spiked off the bounds, Aleksiev called for the 27:27, but it took a total of seven set balls before Serbia – via Atanasijevic who by this time had already registered 16 points all alone – could cash the 2:0 (32-30).    

Serbia continued to shine also in set 3 (6:2) as thousands of fans at Parken stadium were already getting ready for the final showdown starring Russia and Italy coming up later in the afternoon. Serbia was up 11:8 halfway through the third set but their opponents were able to fight back and draw level at 15 on two errors by Atanasijevic. With Milos Nikic failing to complete the next attack, Bulgaria got up by the slimmest margin at the second technical time-out; Serbia had suffered a short black-out but things started working again as Atanasijevic made it 17 all. Bulgaria did again set the pace of the game at 21:18 before Serbia responded with their usual fighting spirit to make it 21:21 and yet another Serbian block flipped the score around (22:21) and resulted into a Bulgarian time-out. Nikola Kovacevic and youngster Nemanja Petric scored two more points to get a couple of chances to close that affair in straight sets, but the Serbs missed out on both before Valentin Bratoev served into the net, and Atanasijevic was blocked as Bulgaria survived a third match ball for their opponents. Serbia’s outstanding opposite – who top scored in the end with 22 points – piled up a fourth match ball and deservedly he was the one who killed the last ball of the game to start the party.     

Camillo Placi, head coach of Bulgaria, said: “I felt better at the press conferences in Gdansk because we were there after two victories and now we are here after two losses. We tried to make the match longer but in the end Serbia were too strong. There was an enormous difference in the attacking skills of the two teams and today this made the difference”.
Todor Aleksiev, team captain of Bulgaria: “Serbia played very well - congratulations to them. They pushed us hard in the end of every set and unfortunately we lost it. At least we are consistent and every time we are fourth, this was the fourth time in a row. This is not a little thing in our country, but we want more than fourth place and we have to keep working and find our way to be better and win this kind of matches”.  

Aleksandar Atanasijevic said: “We are very happy to win a medal again. We won the gold two years ago but this is a new team with a lot of young players and this is our maximum at the moment. This bronze medal is for us like gold and we played against a very strong Bulgarian team with maybe the best opposite in the world in Sokolov, so we knew that we had to give more 100 % if we wanted to win this match at the end we can be happy. Yesterday Russia was better so we have no reason to be sad and we go back to Serbia with a bronze medal and a smile on our faces”.
Igor Kolakovic of Serbia: “Today we played a really tough and important game against Bulgaria and every set was very tough. We played with heart and emotion at the end of every set and I’m very happy to make it to the podium and it is a big result for us to win the bronze medal.”

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the match

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