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Volleyball - 16. September 2008.

Italy, Netherlands, hosts Russia claim straight-set wins on opening day of European qualifier for 2009 World Grand Prix

Italy, Netherlands, hosts Russia claim straight-set wins on opening day of European qualifier for 2009 World Grand Prix
The Netherlands downed Serbia in the big clash of the first day at the World Grand Prix 2009 European Qualification Tournament in Omsk
Top Dutch player Manon Flier started well at the European World Grand Prix qualifier as her team claimed a straight-sets win against Serbia

Omsk, Russia, September 16, 2008 – The Netherlands downed Serbia in the big clash of the first day at the World Grand Prix 2009 European Qualification Tournament in Omsk, Russia. In other matches, Italy blanked Germany and hosts Russia overpowered outsiders France, with all three matches finishing in straight-set victories.
The 2007 FIVB World Grand Prix-winning Netherlands beat Serbia 25-23, 25-22, 25-20, Italy outclassed Germany 25-18, 25-22, 25-20 in the opening match and hosts Russia brushed aside France 25-19, 25-19, 25-23 in front of more than 2,700 excited fans here in Omsk.

Serena Ortolani and Valentina Arrighetti set the pace for the Italians in the first set against the Germans, with the Azzurre building a comfortable 16-8 lead at the second technical time out. Kathleen Weiss set up Margareta Kozuch for a missile from the left to try to close the gap but the Italian block/defense system otherwise worked wonderfully well. Despite German efforts to score through the middle, Ortolani ended the set 25-18.

Germany reorganized their game in the second set. Kozuch was all over the court as she hit and defended like a champion and helped the Germans to keep in touch with the Italian express (13-14). Nevertheless, Head Coach Massimo Barbolini’s charges responded with some hard spikes from the right, and a block winner by Nadia Centoni secured a 16-13 lead at the second technical time out. The set was balanced on a knife edge (20-21) before the Italians took control again, led by their solid defense as Germany struggled with their attacks. Centoni closed the set from the left 25-22.

The Germans fought hard early in the third set and managed to stay up at 7-6, but
the Azzurre pulled it back at 9-all before staging a 7-1 run on the back of stormy attacks from Ortolani and Centoni to take over the lead at 16-10, a gap the Germans could never close (20-25).

The Netherlands dominated Serbia in straight sets at SKK im Blinova sports hall in Omsk to start the 2009 FIVB World Grand Prix European qualifier successfully. The Dutch jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the first set, ready to replicate their success from earlier World Grand Prix events. It started as a demonstration of strength and agility with in-form Manon Flier on duty, but as the set progressed Serbia shut down the Dutch hitters. However, Avital Selinger's team managed to keep the upper hand, with Alice Bloom ending it in the Netherlands' favor 25-23.

Serbia forced the pace in the second period, taking a 16-14 lead at the second technical time out. The 18-year-old Stefana Veljkovic especially showed her talent, scoring both on block at attack. But the Netherlands bounced back strongly (20-17), and when Flier brought up set point with a blistering back-row spike, the Serbian resistance was broken (22-25).

Captain Jelena Nikolic and Natasa Krsmanovic kept Serbian's offence going in the third set but the Dutch squad was unstoppable at the net and unbreakable on defence, closing the match 25-20.

Best scorers of the match were Flier with 18 points and Bloom with 13.

Hosts Russia started their 2009 World Grand Prix campaign with a win against France. The 2006 FIVB world champion Russians entered the tournament without Natalia Alimova, Liubov “Sokolova” Shashkova, Elena Godina and Evgenia Estes, but still dominated the opening set with their strong blocks and spikes (25-19).

Russian Head Coach Vadim Pankov's charges stayed on target in the second set as their hitters scored all over the court, clinching the set again 25-19.

The 19-year-old Alexandra Pasynkova set the pace in the new composed Russian team, and when Maria Borodokova blocked for a 24-23 Russian lead in set three, French hopes vanished into thin air. Ekaterina Gamova ended it some moments later, 25-23 to Russia. 

There will be 12 participating teams next year in the World Grand Prix with the tournament scheduled for a four-week period in July and August. The Preliminary Rounds are set for July 31 to August 16, including a stop in Brazil for the first time, and the Final Round from August 19-23 in Tokyo, Japan.

The top three European teams at the end of the round robin here in Omsk will automatically get a ticket for next year’s competition. Japan, China, Brazil, USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Poland (FIVB wild card) are the teams already qualified. Two other places will be decided at the Asian Women’s Cup Volleyball Championship from October 1-7.

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