Les Bleus upset Olympic champions Russia, Bulgaria off to solid start


Photo CEV

After their straight-sets loss to Bulgaria on Wednesday, Finland are the first team whose chances of competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics are compromised. Though they were off to a solid start, the Finns dissipated three opportunities to win the opening set and even though they fought their way back winning the third period, Bulgaria celebrated a 3-1 win (29-27, 25-15, 23-25, 25-22) which bodes well for their next matches against heavyweights Russia and France. To complete the programme of the second day in Berlin the European champions claimed the Clash of the Titans with the London 2012 gold medallists with a demonstration of power and consistency which resulted in a compelling 3-1 win (25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 25-19).

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Bulgaria vs. Finland 3-1 (29-27, 25-15, 23-25, 25-22)

The match was already a make-or-break bout for Finland following their loss to Russia on Tuesday whereas Bulgaria were playing for the first time at the Max-Schmeling-Halle. The players in blue shirts soon provided their fans with something to cheer about as they claimed an 8-5 lead at the first technical time-out. Maybe they were inspired by their young countrymen and friends who on Tuesday night had won gold at the Ice Hockey Junior World Championship back home in Helsinki. Slowly but surely Bulgaria found their way into the match and levelled the score to make it an exciting and close race after the second technical time-out. Finland did not capitalise on two opportunities to finish the set in their favour before a terrific block by Nikolay Nikolov secured Bulgarias first opportunity to win the period. Finland were able to fend it off and also claimed the following rally before Vladimir Nikolov cancelled the Finns third set point. Bulgaria edged ahead again at 28-27 with an ace by Nikolay Nikolov and a block by Miroslav Gradinarov sealed the Lions win only a few moments later (29-27).

The same close race continued in the early stages of the second set before Bulgaria broke away (10-6) as they seemed to start imposing their supremacy in the game. A six-point advantage at the second technical time-out was enough for the silver medallists from the Baku 2015 European Games to cement their leadership in the match bringing the period to an end with a commanding 25-15 win.

Bulgaria briefly trailed in the third set (2-4) but stormed back to edge ahead after scoring four points in a row. The loud and passionate supporters in white and blue outfits were still hoping for a turnaround as their team set the pace for most of the period and Antti Siltala smashed the ball down for a 16:13 Finnish lead at the second technical time-out. Finland scored another two points in a row as actions resumed after the break but Bulgaria regrouped and looked determined to finish it off in three sets with Todor Skrimov being their most prolific player at this stage of the match. Their comeback was complete at 19-all but they had a short drop of concentration towards the end, and this suddenly changed the course of the game with Finland eventually cashing their second set point to stay alive in the match (25-23).

Bulgaria did not seem to suffer from this setback and piled up a three-point lead at the first technical time-out of set 4. Todor Skrimov who did not compete at last years EuroVolley due to injury was again the man pacing the Lions who looked focussed and motivated to claim their first win in the tournament while playing under the eyes of their countrys Minister of Youth and Sports, Krasimir Kralev. Finland did not surrender though and put on a good fight relying on their stoic determination, known as sisu in their native language. However, Bulgarias power and physical edge were too much to handle and the men coached by Plamen Konstantinov were the ones to celebrate in the end finishing it off at 25-22.

We defended a lot and we came back strong even after losing the first set. We still have much room for improvement and have to work a lot to become competitive against the best teams. Our plan is to develop more players and have more options and quality in the future for the outside spikers position. Its always difficult to speak after two losses in a row but hopefully we will soon be more competitive and have the chance to talk about our victories, said Finland coach Tuomas Sammelvuo.

Bulgaria middle blocker Nikolay Nikolov commented: It was important to take a first step in the tournament. There are no easy matches in here, this is like a European Championship. It does not make much of a difference who is standing on the other side of the net. We will be giving it all and see how far this is going to take us in the end.

Russia vs. France 1-3 (15-25, 25-20, 17-25, 19-25)

France beat Russia 3-1 (25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 25-19) in the final match of the day at the European Olympic Qualifier at the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin.

France have qualified for the Olympic Games on three previous occasions and will be hopeful of making it four after an impressive display against the reigning champions. Russia, who defeated Finland in their opening match yesterday will have to bounce back against Bulgaria on Thursday if they are to make the semi-finals.

It was an even start to the first set but France opened up a 16-10 lead at the second technical time-out as Russia failed to cope with Frances power at the net. There was a blow for Russia coach Vladimir Alekno as the stretcher came on to take off the injured setter Dmitry Kovalev. After that there was no recovery and France took the set at a canter, 25-15.

Russia led 8-7 at the first technical time-out in the second set, but were 12-11 behind not long after as Antonin Rouzier continued to score highly for Les Bleus. It was close at the second technical time-out with the French leading by one. However, the lead swung back the other way and with four set points a powerful spike from Artem Volvich was too hot to handle and Russia won 25-20.

It was level at 5-5 early in the third set but after that France turned on the World League style from last year and raced into a 20-12 lead. They did not make the Olympics at London 2012 but will be hopeful of securing a place later in Brazil this year with the form they are in. At 24-16, France had set points to spare. They did not take the first, but the second was used by Kevin Le Roux who made it 2-1 with a 25-17 victory.

In the final set the teams were hard to separate and at the second technical time-out France led 16-14. The lead was extended to six points after the break when Nicolas Le Goff blocked well at the net. The victory was in Frances sights and it came when the French had five set points. They took the set 25-19 to inflict Russias first defeat of the week.

I am not too disappointed, because I think we still played the best we could, said Russia rising star Egor Kliuka. France played just great and at some point I felt like we did not stand a chance.

French libero Jnia Grebennikov said: It is always important for us to start a competition with a victory. This is an extremely competitive tournament, with Europes top eight teams all playing here. We were very aggressive and performed well, and especially our block and defence worked well. The most important thing is to win every match. I hope that we are the best team in here but this we will get to see and know only on Sunday. The road to Rio is still a long one.

Russias pool games finish Thursday with a match against Bulgaria while France play their second match against struggling Finland in the late game.

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Hinweis: Dies ist ein aktueller Bericht vom 06.01.2016!

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