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26/07/2017 23:31
Russia and Bulgaria complete semi-final line-up after decisive pool victories
2017 CEV U16 Volleyball European Championship - Women

Sofia/Samokov, Bulgaria, July 26, 2017. The semi-final line-up of the #EuroVolleyU16W was decided on Wednesday as the pool phases drew to a close. Russia were the days big winners in Pool II, beating Romania via a tiebreak to progress as pool winners, due to Belarus’ defeat to Turkey, before Bulgaria stunned the Netherlands in straight sets to progress to the last four from Pool I alongside group winners Italy, who finished with a 100% record after beating Greece. The Italians will take on Belarus in the semi-finals, whilst Russia gear up for a semi-final showdown with Bulgaria. In the classification ties the Netherlands will take on Romania, whilst Turkey will face the Greeks.

Pool I (Sofia)

Denmark vs. Finland 0-3 (21-25, 16-25, 6-25)

Heikki Kosonen’s Finland saved their best performance for last in Pool I of the EuroVolleyU16W in Sofia, Jenna Mustonen epitomising the ruthlessness of their team performance as they dismantled near neighbours Denmark in a 3-0 drubbing, Mustonen contributing 13 points to the cause. It was a result that the Finns deserved following a performance where almost everything they touched turned to gold, but having come on the wrong end of several competitive sets until now, Kosonen will still be left ruing what might have been after his side showed the level of performance they are capable of in this match. He was, however, understandably thrilled with his team’s display.

“I’m very happy today. It always feels good to beat our neighbours! Our service was really good today, and our team played without pressure. Obviously only a 3-0 score would be enough to finish fifth, and so we just went out without any pressure and went for it. The girls did an amazing job, but we still have to work on ourselves to put in this kind of display against tougher opponents in future competitions. It’s just a shame that if we had won one or two more sets in previous games, we would be going through. It’s a pity we are going home, but at the top level little things are decisive, and that’s what we need to get right in future.”

Denmark coach Mats Olof Björkman graciously congratulated Finland and old friend Heikki Kosonen on their victory, but was understandably frustrated that his team didn’t put in a winning display whilst still in with a chance of finishing in the top four of the pool.
“It’s frustrating, because when we are playing for something and we are under pressure, it seems the girls get nervous and we can’t produce results or play at our highest level. I congratulate Finland and Heikki of course, they wanted it more than us today and they also had the advantage of playing almost without any pressure. As we saw in our first match against Greece, we thrive in games where we have no pressure and so we won, but when we need a result, psychologically it’s difficult for the players to rise to the occasion because of the stress. But Finland played a perfect game today and were better than us. It’s typical that they save their best performance for us but when it’s a derby it’s always like this! They can consider themselves unlucky not to finish fourth and be competing for the top eight positions.”

Greece vs. Italy 0-3 (24-26, 9-25, 18-25)

Italy were already certain of their place in the last four going into their match with Greece, but it was no dead rubber, the Azzurrine as rampant as ever in an eventual 3-0 victory over their counterparts, the charge led by Loveth Oghosasere Omoruyi who scored 14 points. They had to negotiate a tough opening set before they really got going, but after denying the Greeks at set point over a succession of plays before stealing it themselves at 26-24, they knocked the collective stuffing out of their opponents and cruised toward another convincing victory. That not only sealed their progression to the last four as Pool I winners, but saw them go through with a 100% record.

Ecstatic coach Pasquale D’Aniello paid tribute to his side’s strength in depth, as he handed some of his fringe players extended game time against the Greeks and they repaid his faith with yet another victory.
“I am very happy today. I had the chance to rotate my players and I’m happy for our second-choice setter Laura Pasquino who played very well, and all the others who haven’t had as much game time over the first four matches. It was important to give all the players a taste of the game today, because I need them all ready to play in the semi-finals and be called on when we need them. Even though we were already through, this match was important, these types of games are still important because it maintains our momentum, and it allows us to give the team a test. For when we are in difficult games, we need strength in depth, mental strength across all the players, as well as heart, desire and character to win the match. And we will sometimes have to perform without our best players. Our first-choice libero today, Francesca Magazza, was slightly ill, so we only used her for small intervals in the match. But Sophie Blasi, her understudy, played very well too. I’m pleased we have progressed with all the team playing well, now what will be will be! We will go to the last four and give it our best shot to reach the final!”

Magazza herself, despite playing through illness, was happy enough to break a smile at full-time. She was visibly satisfied with her individual performance in the circumstances and that of her teammates, and is full of optimism ahead of their semi-final showdown.
“It’s been a great pool campaign for us. We are growing each day and with every game. We have had problems at certain times against strong teams, but we have gotten through it with the help of our coaching staff, and every time we pass another test we become stronger as a team. We feel stronger after every match, and we are confident we can put in a great performance in our semi-final, whichever team we play against, and hopefully reach the final.”

Netherlands vs. Bulgaria 0-3 (23-25, 22-25, 21-25)

This match was a direct clash to determine who would finish second in Pool I and progress with Italy. A close match-up was expected, but before a buoyant home crowd in Sofia, Bulgaria blew away the Netherlands in straight sets to leapfrog them to second place and progress to the semi-finals to face Russia, Aleksandra Georgieva again their star performer with 17 points. It was the best display Stojan Gunchev’s side had put in thus far, but even he was sure that the best is yet to come from his team as they sealed a surprise place in the last four.

“I am very happy,” he said after the match. “We have grown so much with every game and improved superbly in defence. For sure our best games are to come. Mentally we are now in a very good place and we will be ready for whoever we come up against in the semi-finals. The crowd was amazing tonight, and I’m so proud of the girls. They gave everything they had for the fans and they still have more to give. It’s great to be in contention for a medal.”

Meanwhile, the star of the show herself, Aleksandra Georgieva, was visibly emotional after her team’s greatest performance so far.
“I’m so emotional! We really wanted this win and we managed to get it against such a strong team like Holland. We stuck to our jobs, played really well and we were better on the day. It was hard but the supporters helped us so much! It felt amazing to win before such a good crowd, and now we are looking forward to the last four. We’ll go out, enjoy it, give our best and see what happens for us!”

Pool II (Samokov)

Romania vs. Russia 2-3 (25-22, 15-25, 8-25, 25-14, 10-15)

Russia sealed their place in the last four of EuroVolleyU16W in Sofia after a show of superb serving powered them to victory in their final Pool II clash with Romania, whom they leapfrogged to break into the top two. Svetlana Safronova’s side scored 19 aces and eventually prevailed in a breathtaking five-set tiebreak battle. Russian captain Tatiana Kadochkina again led the line with 25 points, followed by Ortal Ivgi who contributed 14 points, including eight aces. For Romania, the excellent Alexia Ioana Carutasu finished with 23 points, but it wasn’t enough to see her side home on this occasion as they had to settle for a spot in the classification ties.

It was the Romanians who seized the early initiative, Carutasu the leader in attack whilst teammate Francesca Ioana Alupei came up with the key blocks. The Russians seized the second set thanks primarily to Ortal Ivgi’s serving battering the Romanian reception, before Elizaveta Popova’s own ace restored parity. Russia from there seized control, taking the third set comfortably after a great serving display from Elizaveta Apalikova, before momentum swung back Romania’s way in the fourth set, Mara Dumitrescu’s spike forcing the game to tie-break. There was controversy in the fifth set as the first referee showed a red card to Romania coach Marius Macarie, following his vehement protests against a double-hit decision that went against Romania setter Cosmina Stefania Marinescu. The dismissal handed Russia a two-point advantage via the penalty, and that proved the crucial cushion as Russia edged out the tie-break to reach the semi-finals in Sofia.

Macarie was visibly incensed with the referee’s decision after the match, and believes that it cost his side the game, and a place in the semi-finals. “I know Russia are a strong team and they gave us a really tough match. Now we will focus on playing for places five to eight in Sofia, but it is difficult for us to take. We will see who our next opponent will be and try to prepare as best we can, just as we would if we had reached the semi-finals.”

Russian team advisor and former player Ekaterina Gamova, chose not to comment on the decision made by the referee, but rather praised the character of her team in getting the result which saw them progress. “It was a really tough match between two good teams. In my opinion, we could have won 3-1 but in the fourth set we made some big mistakes and the match was decided by the tie-break. Our girls showed character in the final set and managed to win. Now we will travel to Sofia for the semi-finals. I expect very tough battles there. Everybody wants to win the gold medal but I hope that we will be stronger than the others and take first place.”

One of Russia’s strong performers on the day, Ortal Ivgi, was also quick to praise the character of her side. “Today we showed good collective play. We believed we could win from the first point. We were fighting for every ball, every point. We showed Russian character and we won in five sets. Yes, Sofia is waiting for us. I hope that we will have a chance to compete for first place, but before we can think about that, we must win our semi-final.”

Belgium vs. Czech Republic 1-3 (14-25, 25-20, 21-25, 22-25)

Kylie Neuschaeferova and Ema Kneiflova notched a joint-haul of 32 points to lead the Czechs to their first win in Pool II of the EuroVolleyU16W at the fifth time of asking against Belgium in a 3-1 triumph, which ensured that they finish fifth in the group and the Belgians finished rock bottom without a win in their five matches. It was a hard-earned victory for Ales Novak’s side, who finally clinched the win they desperately craved before bowing out of the competition.

“It’s a really valuable win for us,” Novak said after the match. “Of course, it’s not enough for us to qualify for the next round, but it’s important for our self-confidence. We didn’t play at our best level but there is light at the end of the tunnel and I believe that in the future we will improve our performance. During the whole championship, we were focused on our strong serves and it was that which helped us win today. The setter and blockers followed my instructions during the match and they made the difference at key times. In a year’s time, we will be happy if we are playing for higher positions at championships like this.”

Belgium coach Yorick Vande Velde was disappointed that his team bowed out without a win, but took heart from the increased standard of his team’s performances as the group phase wore on.
“With regards to the tournament, I’m glad that we made progress during the competition and I’m glad to see that we play five games and compete with our opponents in every set,” he said.  “It’s good for us to know that we can beat them if we work hard during the year. We are close but at the moment, our final position reflects our level. The Czech Republic are a very good block-defence team and I want to congratulate them. Maybe if we work harder on our serving, our physical presence, and our block-defence, next year we can achieve more. I hope we can, mostly for the players. I will not be the head coach of the team in a year’s time. I’m stepping down to become assistant. As a young coach I hope this is the start of something special for me and also for them.”

Turkey vs. Belarus 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-22, 26-24)

In the last match of the day and the final game of the tournament in Samokov, Turkey defeated Belarus 3-1 to finish third in Pool II and hand first place in the group to Russia. The key players in Turkey’s victory were the ever reliable Sude Hacimustafaoglu, who scored an incredible 36 points, and the libero of the team Gülce Gültekin who shone in defence throughout. Turkey started the match well, with Hacimustafaoglu leading the line as they clinched a tight first set. Belarus battled back in the second, but that would be the only respite that they would enjoy in the game, Gülce Gültekin a consistent presence in thwarting them in defence, saving several balls that looked destined to win points, which the Turks were able to craft into attacks through the impressive Hacimustafaoglu. She was instrumental as the Turks seized the third set, and Gülce Gültekin’s continual intervention helped Turkey to match point in the fourth, before Hacimustafaoglu popped up again to finish the game. The result did not prevent Belarus’ progression, but it did highlight areas for improvement for their coach, Yahor Pimakhin.

“We had our chances but we missed them, we must be more ruthless,” he said. “I want to congratulate Turkey. They were the better team and deserved the victory. Now we must prepare for the semi-finals in Sofia. Our next opponent is Italy. I expect a very tough battle, but we are hoping that we can win.”

Turkey coach Bülent Gunes was pleased with his team’s victory, but conceded that it was bittersweet since it wasn’t enough to see them into the last four.
“First of all we finished the group stage with 10 points but we couldn’t reach the semis because the first criterion which decides the table is number of wins,” he said. “So, it is upsetting for us. We are thinking that this system is not good for tournaments of this category. I want to congratulate my players though because they did very well. I want to honour also Pelin Eroktay, she was born in 2004 and today she did a great job. Pelin is a really important player for the future of Turkish Volleyball and has great potential. Our setter Hilal Kocakara, the libero Gülce Gültekin and Sude Hacimustafaoglu also had an incredible game. We are really happy with their performance. I want to congratulate Belarus and wish them success in the Final Four. Now we will face Greece. We want to win and now our mission is fifth place, and we really want to claim it to leave Bulgaria on a high.”

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News nr. 4 of 22
27/07/2017 11:15:00
Strength in depth the key for D’Aniello’s Italy
25/07/2017 23:07:00
Italy and Belarus soar into #EuroVolleyU16W semi-finals

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