Luxembourg, June 5, 2018. If the Czech Republic have already secured their participation in the Final Four of the 2018 CEV Volleyball Golden European League – Women with five wins in a row in Pool C, there are three teams that on Wednesday will be fighting for the right to join them and hosts Hungary at the Finals coming up next week in Budapest. Bulgaria and Azerbaijan are battling for first place in Pool A – while Finland can finish first in Pool B or make it to the Finals if they emerge as the best runners-up across all pools. The Finals will be taking place on June 14-15 at Papp Laszlo Arena in Budapest in a perfect rehearsal of next year’s EuroVolley – a competition that Hungary will co-host together with Turkey, Poland and Slovakia.
Ukraine vs. Azerbaijan
• Ukraine are the gold medal winners from the 2017 edition of the European League but they are out of contention for a spot in this year’s Finals.
• Azerbaijan, on the other hand, are still in the race for a spot to compete in Budapest as they have four wins and one loss this far – and the same number of points (12) as current pool leaders Bulgaria.
• Back in May, Azerbaijan claimed a 3-1 home victory over Ukraine.
Portugal vs. Bulgaria
• Bulgaria women’s national team is in an excellent position to qualify for the Final Round of the first-ever edition of the CEV Volleyball Golden European League.
• In their first match, the Bulgarians defeated Portugal 3-0.
• The game will start at 16:00 in Centro de Desportos e Congressos de Matosinhos and tickets are still available.
• Gergana Dimitrova is the fifth best scorer across all pools on 79 points, while her teammate Hristina Ruseva is the best blocker of the competition with 29 blocks.
• The Portuguese players Juliana Isabel Antunes (captain) and libero Joana Resende are the second and third-best receivers of the competition this far.
• Nasya Dimitrova (BUL) and Eduarda Duarte (POR) are the fourth and sixth-best servers, respectively.
Manuel Almeida, coach of Portugal: “We will try to take full advantage of this last match in the Golden European League, to continue our technical and tactical evolution. We will try to make fewer errors and show more stability in our game, even knowing in advance that Bulgaria, which I consider as the strongest team of the pool, will come to Portugal with the goal of not losing any set, so they do not put at stake their qualification to the Final Four in Hungary.”
France vs. Croatia
• France lost their fifth straight game on Saturday when playing against Finland, and are hoping to win the first one at home facing Croatia.
• France lost to Croatia 1-3 on May 26 for the 3rd leg of this Golden European League.
Léa Soldner, libero of France: “We are preparing ourselves for a big game tomorrow against Croatia, which is a team with a lot of good players. We are hoping to use this match to keep on working on our connections and developing our team spirit. It will be an excellent test to assess the amount of progress we have made during this past month.”
Emmanuel Fouchet, team manager of France: “These matches are a good opportunity for us to try out many different players and systems. Our match at home against Hungary was frustrating but we saw some good things against Finland. As a staff, we communicate a lot with the players, including when we need to be more demanding. The results showed up on Saturday and we are hoping to win this one against Croatia in Nancy.”
Hungary vs. Finland
• After five matches, Finland lead Pool B with four victories and a loss, followed by Hungary with three wins and two losses.
• In Round 2, i.e. back on May 26, Finland beat Hungary 3-1 in Tampere. The best scorer of that match was Finland’s Piia Korhonen with 19 points.
• If Finland win, they will qualify for the Final Four in Budapest (14-15 June). The Finnish team was runner-up last year, losing to Ukraine in the two-legged final.
• Hungary won their first two home games in this year’s European League, having beaten France 3-0 and Croatia 3-1. Finland lost their first away match 0-3 in Croatia, but they won 3-1 in France last Saturday.
• The two teams have locked horns four times so far: Hungary won the first three matches (1 in 2014 and 2 in 2016), before losing in Tampere this May.
Rita Liliom, team leader of Hungary: “Of course we want to win this match, but the result will be far more important next week, at the Final Four. The atmosphere is great within the team; our head coach wants to give a chance to every player to be on court before the Final Four.”
Tapio Kangasniemi, head coach of Team Finland: “This is the best possible situation for us. The match is very important and we have played well until now. We have not had time to explore the city, so we want to come back to Hungary next week.”
Belarus vs. Czech Republic
• Czech Republic have already secured their place in the Final Four after claiming five wins in a row.
• Belarus sit in second place in the pool on a record of three wins and two losses.
• Last Saturday the Czechs claimed a 3-0 home victory over Belarus.
Slovakia vs. Spain
• The eventual winners of this match will finish third in Pool C.
• Slovakia won in four sets against Spain in Valladolid on Saturday. It was the first win for the Slovakian team in the 2018 Golden European League and first win for newly appointed Italian coach Marco Fenoglio in an official match.
• It will be the 14th match between Slovakia and Spain, with Spain leading the way with eight wins this far.
• Slovakia will play in the city of Levice for the first time in three years.
Marco Fenoglio, coach of Slovakia: “The victory in Spain was absolutely important for our team and now we want to repeat this also in Slovakia. If we can do this, it is important, because it will be clear that we have found a way to play well. We need time, because the preparation was short and this week I finally start to see an almost perfect physical condition among my players. I would like to close this period with a victory as it would be a good sign that we have done a good job this far.”
Pascual Saurin, coach of Spain: “For both teams this will be the last match in the Golden European League and we know that the winner will finish in third place. Our goal is to win, but we know that it will be hard, because Slovakia has the same goal. On Saturday, we started bad in Valladolid, but then we improved our play. If we want to be successful tomorrow, we need to be concentrated from the start to the end of the match.”