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14/06/2018 21:38
Hungary and Bulgaria to lock horns in Golden #EuroLeagueW ‘grand finale’
2018 CEV Volleyball Golden European League - Women

Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2018. Hungary and Bulgaria will contest on Friday the ‘grand finale’ of the 2018 CEV Volleyball Golden European League – Women after they claimed comprehensive 3-0 victories in their respective semi-finals with Czech Republic and Finland. Bulgaria needed 69 minutes only to secure their place in the final following a compelling 3-0 victory (25-21, 25-13, 25-14) over Finland. Later in the evening, Hungary rose to the occasion and delighted a raucous home crowd to stamp a 25-21, 25-19, 25-19 win – thus accounting for only their second victory in history over the Czechs. These results make sure that early next week Hungary and Bulgaria will be travelling to Peru to contest the inaugural FIVB Challenger Cup whose eventual winners will participate in the 2019 edition of the elite FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Bulgaria vs. Finland 3-0 (25-21, 25-13, 25-14)

•    The first semi-final at the iconic Papp Laszlo Arena – a state-of-the-art stadium named after three-time Olympic gold medallist Laszlo Papp – featured the teams that had finished on top of the charts in Pool A and B, respectively. It was the first ever Volleyball match to take place at the arena that will be hosting the 2019 women’s EuroVolley.
•    Bulgaria were vying for their sixth European League podium finish – after claiming silver twice and bronze three times in their previous participations in the competition.
•    Finland had crowned their European League debut in 2017 with a historic silver medal, losing only to Ukraine in the finals.  
•    Both teams had travelled to Budapest with a young roster – their only players born in the 80s being Eveliina Koljonen (1989) and Mariya Karakasheva (1988). Bulgaria’s group featured the second-youngest player of the Final Four in the still 16-year-old Aleksandra Milanova.

•    The opening set was a real rollercoaster, with Bulgaria storming to a comprehensive 8-2 lead before Finland responded with a positive streak of five consecutive points. Both teams seem to feel a bit of pressure as they struggled to display consistency in their game – but after a very rough start, Finland eventually levelled the score at 11-all. Shortly afterwards, however, the ‘Lionesses’ re-opened the gap and were able to hold on to it to cash a 25-21 win with Gergana Dimitrova scoring one of her five points in the set.  
•    The second set was a far more one-sided affair, with Bulgaria coming out with all guns blazing again (7-3, 10-4) – but this time there was no Finnish comeback that the ‘Lionesses’ had to stand. Bulgaria outclassed their opponents in all aspects of the game, with their dominance resulting in a landslide 25-13 win.
•    Bulgaria had registered a fine 53% success rate in attack in the second set vs. a very low 31% for the Finns – and their show of strength continued in set 3 as well (6-1, 13-5). After recording as many as seven blocks in the second set, the ‘Lionesses’ did rule at the net in the third section of the game too. It did not take too long until Bulgaria celebrated their qualification to the gold medal match following a block by their captain Hristina Ruseva (25-14).
•    Silvana Chausheva top scored for Bulgaria with 14 points, as Gergana and Nasya Dimitrova piled up 13 apiece. Team captain Pauliina Vilponen was the only Finnish player to record a double-digit performance with 10 points. Nasya Dimitrova received the award for the Best Player of the match presented by the organisers. 


Hristina Ruseva, team captain of Bulgaria: “We played a very good match today; I am extremely happy with the way we played. I am obviously happy because we won the match in straight sets and we showed that we did not have any ups and downs throughout the whole match. We were well prepared and focussed from the very first moment. Now we look forward to knowing the name of our opponent in the final.”

Ivan Petkov, head coach of Bulgaria: “It was a match featuring two teams playing at a different level; we showed a very good game, and we were very concentrated from start to end of the match. We achieved the goal that we had set for today and therefore I am happy about that. My players delivered a very good match and I want to thank and congratulate them. As for tomorrow’s final, we do not have any wish when it comes to our opponent there.”

Tapio Kangasniemi, head coach of Finland: “We could have won the first set but after that, Bulgaria had better places to hit their attacks. We received their serves well but you have to attack more efficiently if you want to win. We are happy that we can play tomorrow as well.”  

Pauliina Vilponen, team captain of Finland: “On the one hand, we did not play on our level. On the other hand, Bulgaria attacked strongly during the entire match. The first set was the decisive factor of the whole match. I am disappointed about the final score.”

Hungary vs. Czech Republic 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-19)

•    It was the first matchup between Hungary and Czech Republic since September 2012, when Hungary lost 1-3 to the Czechs in a EuroVolley qualifier played in Budaörs.
•    Hungary were vying for only their second victory in matches with the Czech Republic. Out of 14 international games featuring these two teams, Czech Republic had won 13. Hungary’s only victory came in 2011 in a European League fixture contested in Prostejov (CZE), which had ended in a 3-2 away victory for the Hungarians.
•    The Czechs, on the other hand, were determined to extend their winning streak from the group stage – where they had won six matches in a row to claim first place in Pool C.
•    The starting six of Hungary included the youngest player at the tournament, the only 16-year-old Reka Szedmak.
•    Dr Attiláné Kotsis, the most successful Hungarian Volleyball coach of all time and a member of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, received a bunch of flowers before the start of the semi-final, to celebrate her 90th birthday. She coached the national team at three consecutive Olympics (1972, 1976 and 1980) when Hungary where one of the major forces to reckon with in international Volleyball.

•    The hosts claimed an early lead (4-2) and taking an extra boost of energy from the passionate and raucous local crowd, they never relinquished it until they cashed a 25-21 win powered by their star players Greta Szakmary and Renata Sandor, who scored six points apiece in the opening set.
•    After trailing for the early stages of the second set, Hungary rose to the occasion and provided the audience with more reasons to celebrate. Their teamwork looked just superb - their performance consistent in all aspects of the game and the hosts eventually doubled their lead in the match following yet another point scored by Renata Sandor (25-19).
•    The hosts seemed to be storming to a comprehensive victory as they claimed a 6-4 lead in the third set, but soon afterwards, they ended up trailing 8-10. A timeout asked by their coach Jan De Brandt produced the desired result, as Hungary resumed their triumphal march, eventually sealing a 3-0 victory with a mighty block by Andrea Pinter to trigger the home party.
•    Greta Szakmary and Renata Sandor top scored for the home side with 21 and 18 points, respectively – as Michaela Mlejnkova registered 18 for the Czechs in their losing effort. Hungary’s setter Reka Bleicher received the award for the Best Player of the match.

Greta Szakmary, player of Hungary: “It was a really tough match. We played fantastically, I am very happy that we could win in three sets against a really great Czech team.”

Renata Sandor, player of Hungary: “We enjoyed the match pretty much, that was the main factor in our win. Our crowd were the seventh player on the court, so we have to thank them for the great support.”

Jan De Brandt, coach of Hungary: “It is an unbelievable victory. I never thought that we could reach this level. Today we showed that there is more potential in this team than I ever thought.”

Zdenek Pommer, head coach of Czech Republic: “Hungary played very well today, they were definitely better than us in attack. We could not find a proper response to their attack and this is why we lost. Now we have to stop thinking about this match and prepare better for tomorrow’s game with Finland. We want to win the bronze medal.”

Barbora Purchartova, captain of Czech Republic: “Maybe Hungary were too strong or it just wasn’t our day today… Right now, we are extremely disappointed. We could not not react to the attacks of Gréta Szakmáry and Renata Sandor - both played a very good game today. Tomorrow is a new day, we have the chance to win the bronze medal, but we need to forget today’s match. We want to leave the tournament with a medal.”

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