Puchov. The last unbeaten team in Pool II at the Final Round of the 2017 CEV U19 Volleyball European Championship – Men were handed their first defeat on Wednesday. France managed a 3-1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-16) victory over the Czech Republic to heat up the race for the top spots in the pool standings. Finland scored an important 3-1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-22) victory over Slovakia in the second match in Puchov, knocking the home team out of contention for the top eight stage of the tournament. In the last match of the day Turkey mastered a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-15) shutout of Romania leaving their opponents with a slim chance of progressing to Győr. Turkey, the Czech Republic and France have already secured their tickets to the last stage in Hungary, as all of them, along with Finland, have a shot at the semi-finals.
The Czechs led the way throughout the opening set. After 23-18 France narrowed the gap down to one point (23-24), but then the Czech Republic managed to close it off at 25-23. The second set was under France’s control on the way to a 25-21 win. The Czechs could not hold on to a 23-20 lead in the third set, as France took five points in a row with Célestin Cardin behind the serving line and won by 25-23. It was the turning point in the game, because France won the next set by an impressive 25-16 and collected their third victory in Puchov. Célestin Cardin was the best scorer with 23 points, while Marek Sotola piled up 17 points for the Czech Republic.
Ondrej Piskacek, captain of the Czech Republic: “The match was decided in the final stages of the third set, when we had a 23-20 lead. After that it was hard to come back into the match. It was our first loss here in Puchov. Everything is OK if we win our last game in the pool, against Romania.”
Jiri Zach, coach of the Czech Republic: “The French team was better today. They knew that a loss would push them out of semifinal contention. It is a pity that we lost the third set. We lost it in a sinful way and it was the key to the match. We made four mistakes in a row. We had everything in our hands. It will be very difficult tomorrow, especially mentally.”
Célestin Cardin, player of France: “We spent a lot of time watching videos, we trained the situations in practice, we talked a lot about this opponent, because the Czech Republic has a very strong team. But the time we spent on preparation was well worth it.”
Slimane Belmadi, coach of France: “We knew the Czech team very well. We had prepared well. We were watching videos and we tried to prepare our boys for their players. In the beginning we again made mistakes, but then we played the best we can and we won.”
In what was a must-win game for them, Slovakia won the opening set against Finland by 25-21. But after that the players from northern Europe improved their game, reduced their errors and took the next two parts of the match – 25-19, 25-23. The home team fought back in the fourth set and the score was very close the entire time. Finland showed more passion in the final moments of the set and won this important match with a 25-22 score. Aaro Nikula collected 17 points for Finland. Nicolas Ondrus was the best scorer for Slovakia with 16 points.
Oskari Keskinen, player of Finland: “We had better blocks than we had before, we made fewer mistakes and our game was more teamwork.”
Pertti Honkanen, coach of Finland: “Today we made fewer mistakes than Slovakia. I have not seen the statistics yet, but I think the biggest difference today was in blocking and serving. Peter Kalny prepared his players really well for us and it was a difficult match.”
Samuel Jurik, player of Slovakia: “It is a pity! It was our last chance to stay in contention for advancement to Győr. We made a lot of mistakes in key parts of the match. I think we can play better than we did.”
Peter Kalny, coach of Slovakia: “Finland made fewer errors than us and it was the key to the match. We were under pressure, because we needed to win to stay in the tournament. We are out, but tomorrow we will play our last match here, in Puchov, and we will do our best.”
Turkey started strong; they served and attacked better and won the first set by 25-22. Romania had a 14-7 and a 18-13 lead in the second set, but thanks to very good serving, Turkey came back and finally won by 25-23. After that, there was only one team on the court. Turkey won the next set by a fast and easy 25-15 to stamp a straight-set victory and climb to the top of the current standings. Adis Lagumdzija was the best scorer of the match with 23 points for Turkey, while Ovidiu Costin Darlaczi collected 14 points for Romania.
Adis Lagumdzija, player of Turkey: “We came back in the second set from a six-point deficit. Some of our players did not play as well as they can, but we got help from the bench. We need to concentrate on the next match and we hope to go to the semifinals in Hungary.”
Ali Umit Hizal, coach of Turkey: “Our best players did not play very well in the second set, but the substitute players did and that means that we have a strong team. I am proud of them. They played very well. Romania are also a good team. We want to win tomorrow as well, because our goal is to finish the pool as the eventual leaders.”
Ovidiu Costin Darlaczi, player of Romania: “Turkey are simply better than us. They have bigger opportunities to select guys for their national team. But we still have motivation to play, because this is a European Championship and each victory counts.”
Stelian Ghitun, coach of Romania: “In the first two sets we played well. We had no troubles on the court and we played same level of Volleyball as Turkey. But afterwards we got too relaxed. It is in our heads, it is our mentality and we have to work on it. Tomorrow we have to play better and try to finish the tournament with a victory.”
All matches of the tournament are scheduled for live streaming on LAOLA1.tv.
Engage with the U19 European Championship on social media by using the competition’s official hashtag #EuroVolleyU19M.