Luxembourg, May 25, 2018. The 2018 CEV Volleyball Golden European League – Women resumes on Saturday with five matches – with another one following on Sunday. Bulgaria and Azerbaijan will be battling for the leadership in Pool A as they both have two wins in as many matches they have contested this far. The Czech Republic and Belarus will be trying to extend their winning streaks in Pool C when hosting Slovakia and Spain respectively, while Hungary chase a third straight win in Pool B when playing Finland in Tampere. The top teams from each pool will join hosts Hungary at the Final Four due to take place on June 14-15 in Budapest.
Portugal vs. Ukraine
• Portugal and Ukraine vie for their first victory in the 2018 Golden European League.
• Ukraine are the gold medal winners from the 2017 edition.
• Anna Stepaniuk, MVP of the last European League finals, scored 15 points in the 2nd leg match against Bulgaria on Wednesday.
• Anastasiia Kraiduba (Chernukha) is the best scorer in the competition this far on 41 points.
• Ukraine lost 1-3 to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria after winning the first set in both matches; Portugal, on the other hand, took their first set win on Wednesday when playing Azerbaijan in Baku.
• Back in 2008, in qualifiers for the 2009 EuroVolley, Ukraine beat Portugal twice 3-0 in Cherkasy and in Kakanj (BIH).
Manuel Almeida, coach of Portugal: “Ukraine is a team with a fast game and very strong in block and attack. The victory in the last European League demonstrates well the quality of this team that, for sure, will create many problems to our side. We are growing and we have the win of the first set against Azerbaijan to prove it. Unfortunately, we could not maintain the same level in service and attack in the remaining sets, but we left that match with a sense of evolution in our game. Sunday, playing at home, we will try to show the same quality of play of that first set against Azerbaijan and we will try to play as fast as possible to create breaches in the strong Ukrainian block. We will count of course on the support of our public to help us surprise such a strong opponent.”
Bulgaria vs. Azerbaijan
• Bulgaria host Azerbaijan in the battle for first place in Pool A of the #EuroLeagueW this Saturday in “Hristo Botev” sports hall in Sofia.
• Both teams are undefeated after recording comfortable wins against Portugal and Ukraine.
• The last bad news from the Bulgarian squad is the injury of Dobriana Rabadzhieva. The Bulgarian star did not play in the first two matches and she will miss the remaining ones as well because of an injury to the right Achilles tendon.
• Azerbaijan lost two sets in the first two matches and Faig Garayev’s side is second in Pool A, one set behind the Lionesses.
• The match is taking place this Saturday at 17:00 EET and tickets are still available.
• In the other match of Pool A, Portugal host Ukraine on Sunday at 17:00 local time.
Ivan Petkov, coach of Bulgaria: “The battle for the first place is beginning. We play match by match and now we are focusing on our next opponent – Azerbaijan. They are a good team and it will be a difficult match for sure. I believe in my players and hope to claim a third victory in a row. It will be an extremely important match and we will do everything to win it.”
Hristina Ruseva, captain of Bulgaria: “Azerbaijan is a really good team. They definitely will be ready for this match in the best way because we are their biggest competitor for first place in the pool. I expect from my team to show great focus and to play without ups-and-downs as we did in the last match against Ukraine. I hope to show our real face and to finish our home campaign in “Hristo Botev” sports hall with a third consecutive win. Everything depends on us. If we are concentrated and follow the tactical plan of our coach, I think we will achieve another victory.”
Silvana Chausheva, opposite of Bulgaria: “Azerbaijan also have two wins and in my opinion it will be the best match in the pool. We are playing point by point, set by set and match by match in the #EuroLeagueW, so I hope to win and to make another big step towards reaching the Finals in Budapest.”
Famil Aghayev, assistant coach of Azerbaijan: “I think the key for success tomorrow will be the service. Of course, a good block-touch is another element that could make the difference. I think Bulgaria have very good attackers and to stop them we must play well in block and defence. We know Bulgaria is a good team. Everybody knows that our biggest stars are not playing in this tournament and we have many young girls. We already won two matches and we believe that our team will improve match by match and step by step our system will produce a good result!”
Croatia vs. France
• Croatia will be trying to improve their current win-loss record (1-1) after losing to Hungary in Budapest last Wednesday.
• They previously beat Finland at home in the opening round of the competition.
• Croatia are making their first European League appearance since the 2011 edition when they finished last in their pool.
Igor Lovrinov, head coach of Croatia: “On paper France are the weakest team in our group, but we cannot underestimate them, and we need to give our best to win.”
Samanta Fabris, player of Croatia: “The last match we were not as good as we can be, so I hope we will show that in the match against France.”
Finland vs. Hungary
• Hungary lead the way in Pool B after their 3-0 and 3-1 victories over France and Croatia, respectively. Finland sit in third place on three points after losing to Croatia 0-3 and beating France 3-0.
• Finland and Hungary have played each other 30 times this far – with Hungary boasting 25 wins. The last matches came in 2016 at qualifiers for the 2017 EuroVolley held in Erd and Bielsko-Biala. Hungary won on both occasions.
• This is the ninth time Finland women’s national team play in Tampere.
• Finland are the silver medal winners from the 2017 European League, where they lost to Ukraine in the finals.
• Piia Korhonen is the second best scorer of the Golden European League this far on 34 points. Greta Szakmary of Hungary follows next on 33.
Tapio Kangasniemi, coach of Finland: “I am quite pleased about our first two games in the CEV Volleyball Golden European League so far. I am especially happy with the way we have played. I believe that the match with France will be a great one. Our goal is to get better with each match. Hungary have played mature and effective Volleyball so far, without too many ups and downs. They have a couple of key players, who are really good. We know what lies ahead of us in Saturday’s match.”
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia
• The Czech Republic started their European League campaign with two wins in as many matches with Spain where they did not lose a single set. Slovakia, on the other hand, lost twice to Belarus – at home and away as well, taking one point from those matches.
• Andrea Kossanyiova and Nikola Radosova have been the top scorers for the Czech and Slovakian team this far.
• The organisers expect a full house in Prague with a lot more fans than for Wednesday’s game with Spain.
• The last time the Czech Republic played Slovakia was last year in a World Championship qualifier. The Czechs won the match 3-1.
Barbora Purchartová, captain of Czech Republic: “We look forward to the match; playing with Slovakia, it is always a matter of prestige.”
Zdeněk Pommer, coach of Czech Republic: “I am glad we have two victories, but I know we have a tougher opponent now and it is a derby for both teams, where everything can happen.”
Belarus vs. Spain
• Belarus have a record of two wins in as many matches this far as they beat Slovakia both away and at home as well.
• They certainly want to cement their leading position in Pool C when playing Spain, first at Chyzhovka-Arena in Minsk on Saturday and next Wednesday, May 30 in Valladolid.
• It is the first time Belarus and Spain lock horns in the European League.
• Hanna Hryshkevich and Anzhelika Barysevich are among the top 10 best scorers of the competition this far, with 29 and 30 points, respectively.
• Belarus will use Kristina Kicka as their opposite for the match with Spain. She replaces Vera Kastsiuchyk in this position.
• Spain will be chasing their first points in the competition after losing both at home and away to the Czech Republic.
Petr Khilko, coach of Belarus: “We are satisfied with our start to the European League. Maybe the quality of our game is still questionable, but there is a great atmosphere in the team. We have studied Spain’s matches with the Czech Republic and we expect an interesting game. They move very fast, have good defence skills and their attack is solid as well. We will be trying to put pressure on them with our serve and block. Kristina Kicka has come in to replace Vera Kastsiuchyk – and this experience will be helping her and us for future matches in the European League.”