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27/06/2015 16:08
Serbia shatter Azerbaijani dreams of glory and win bronze medal in Baku
2015 European Games

Baku, Azerbaijan, June 27, 2015. Serbia are the 2015 European Games bronze medallists. The Serbian team shattered the dreams of the host country of finishing the tournament with their first medal in international competitions, and beat Azerbaijan in a five-setter roller-coaster match. The Balkan side demonstrated nerves of steel in the decisive moments of the clash and reached the third position in the final standings of the tournament after a memorable victory 3:2 (21-25, 25-19, 17-25, 25-14, 15-9).

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Azerbaijan vs Serbia 2:3 (25-21, 19-25, 25-17, 14-25, 9-15)

A packed Crystal Hall arena craved for a joyful closure of the competition for the home team, but Azerbaijan met an inspired Serbian side that smashed the local heroines' dreams of a medal. Serbia earned the third place of the podium at the inaugural European Games after defeating the host country 3:2, thus capping off their remarkable tournament with bronze.

With the desire of inaugurating their tally of medals in international competitions as main beacon, Azerbaijan tried to put in the past the disheartenining semifinal match celebrated last Thursday by taking an early lead in the first set (8:6, 16:14) through imposing pressure with the block and the efficiency in spiking presented by the best scorer and best spiker of the competition thus far, Polina Rahimova. This electric start took Serbia by surprise and despite their attempts to end the hosts’ powerful start of the clash, Azerbaijan offered no glimpse of hesitation and closed the first set with a skillful feint pass by Oksana Kurt 25-21.

While Azerbaijan braced to maintain the same level of powerful display, Serbia struggled to present opposition so to recover their options to fight for victory in the match. The conflicting wishes of the two squads were evident in an equalised second period, and were illustrated in the clashing remarkable performances of Milena Rasic and Katerina Zhidkova on both sides of the net. As the set progressed, the Serbian players managed to create a suffocating pressure with their serves thus acquiring a late lead that ended up being decisive. A free ball accomplished by Marta Drpa returned the tie to the game (19-25).

An initial 8:2 for Azerbaijan in the third set stated the outburst of determining Volleyball imposed by the local stars as a reaction to the previous period. Using Polina Rahimova’s and Katerina Zhidkova’s compelling spikes and Oksana Kurt’s efficient distribution, Azerbaijan prolonged the momentum throughout the set and firmly drove the period to a conclusive 25-17.

The local heroines wanted to avoid the fifth set at all costs, in order to elude reliving the painful tie-breaker defeat suffered on Thursday against Turkey. The Azerbaijani fears and an improvement in the offensive disposition of the Serbian side gave Zoran Terzic’s women an edge in the fourth period. The local heroines proved unable to reduce the disadvantage and Marta Drpa’s performance in the middle of the net sent the period to a convincing 25-14 and the match to the tie-break.

This roller-coaster reached its highest levels of thrills and tension in the disputed fifth set, as the bronze medal of the tournament was to be decided in a breathtaking tie-breaker. Azerbaijan soon demonstrated that their fears were coming alive when a sensational run by the efficient Serbian players produced a shocking 5:10 in the scoreboard. The local fans increased their support and chants, but the disadvantage proved too wide to recover for the host team, despite the fruitless attempts by the Azerbaijani heroines. Aleksandr Chervyakov’s ladies had not only to fight against the error-free performance by their rivals but also against their own anxiety. Their dreams ultimately vanished when one of the stars of the match, Milena Rasic, finished a free-ball to seal the set 15-9 and the match 3:2.

Serbia earn the honour of reaching the third position of the podium of the inaugural European Games, and become the bronze medallists of the historic event. 

“Before the tournament, we did not know what level we should expect to compete against. We quickly realised that the competition was much stronger than we expected. This is why this bronze medal is an even bigger achievement. I think we have played some good Volleyball all the way through and deserved a medal. But let me stress out that Azerbaijan also deserved a medal for their flawless organisation; their team has played a great tournament,” said Jelena Nikolic, captain of Serbia.

“Victory is all that mattered today, and unfortunately we did not manage to achieve it. One of the things that gave Serbia the win is our service and reception which was not good enough. It is definitely something that we need to work on. Furthermore, it was a very emotional match for all of us, in front of this amazing crowd who has given us so much support through the whole tournament. Unfortunately we were not good enough to cope with the pressure and the stress. But I am sure that this team will win many matches in the future,” said the coach of Azerbaijan Aleksandr Chervyakov.

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