The first stage of the 2015 women’s EuroVolley came to a close on Monday night with eight exciting matches across four venues in the Netherlands and Belgium, where 2013 gold medallists Russia, 2015 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup runners-up Serbia, Baku 2015 European Games champions Turkey and co-hosts the Netherlands secured leadership of their pools to move straight to the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia, on the other hand, suffered third straight defeats and travelled back home, while the second and third placed teams from each pool continue their journey in the playoff round, which is due to take place on Wednesday. Italy will play Croatia, and Belarus will take on Poland in Rotterdam, while the Yellow Tigers of Belgium will continue their home campaign in Antwerp when they play the Czech Republic. Germany will take on Hungary, also at Antwerp's Lotto Arena.
Hungary have returned to the stage of a European Championship Final Round for the first time since 1987. Following their European League title earlier this month, they wrote another piece of history on Monday by securing their spot in the playoff round.
Poland clinched their ticket to the playoff matches of the 2015 women’s EuroVolley after defeating rookies Slovenia in three sets 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-21) in the opening match of the third day of competition in Apeldoorn.
“We are done with the first phase of the tournament, and no matter our level, we are leaving this behind us now," Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki said. "Today we played at the level that was required to win, but after today we will have to start afresh if we want to win against our next rival.”
Later in the evening, local favourites the Netherlands continued their fairy tale run in Apeldoorn with another straight-set victory over Italy 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-22) in front of 5,600 spectators. Since both teams had convincingly won their first two matches, it was time for a showdown with the winner qualifying for the quarterfinals. The Oranje squad responded to the support from their fans to beat the Italian team in three sets.
“My team impresses me more and more with each day. I am extremely happy to see that they play more aggressive and concentrated in each match," Netherlands coach Giovanni Guidetti said. "At the same time I am sad to leave Apeldoorn, this has been great. We won the third set thanks to all the people standing and cheering."
“We knew that we could do this, but when it actually happens it is just fantastic," Netherlands captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues added. "We dominated with our serves, and when the Italians dropped some shots, we knew we could beat them today.”
The quest for a spot in the playoff matches and quarterfinals of the 2015 EuroVolley reached its climax on Monday in Pool B. The thrilling day began with Hungary’s stunning victory over Azerbaijan 3-1 (25-16, 26-28, 25-22, 25-16) to secure qualification for the playoff matches.
“Even if it was a beautiful thing to win the CEV Volleyball European League, this qualification for the second round is an even better result for us,” Hungarian spiker Agnes Pallag said. “We are a team, we stick together, we are a very good group and we wanted this victory more than our rivals.”
The passionate fans in the Belgian city did not witness a third triumph for the local heroines, as Belgium's Yellow Tigers were stopped by an inspired Turkish team who won the final clash in Pool B 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-16) to secure the top position in the pool and progress to the quarterfinals.
In Pool C in Rotterdam, Belarus confirmed their qualification for the playoff matches following a disputed win over Bulgaria 3-2 (25-21, 25-23, 14-25, 20-25, 15-11).
“We are very happy," Belarus coach Petr Khilko said. "It’s great to beat teams that are higher in ranking than us. We have a strong team with good players and we showed with this result that we belong here."
“I’m so excited that we won," Belarus captain Aksana Kavalchuk added. "The deciding fifth set we won it partly due to the support of our fans."
In the second match of the day, Croatia outclassed titleholders Russia in an impressive straight-sets win (25-21, 26-24, 26-24).
“We are very happy that we won," Croatia coach Angelo Vercesi said. "We really played as a team and with character. We go step by step and we are really growing in this tournament.”
“We are improving day by day and I’m very proud of my team," Croatia captain Aksana Kavalchuk added. "It’s really a team victory.”
“We didn’t play with the right focus today partly because we were already qualified for the quarterfinals," Russia coach Yuriy Marichev said. "Of course I’m still disappointed about this loss."
In Pool D in Eindhoven, Germany defeated the Czech Republic 3-0 (25-17, 25-23, 25-17) in the first encounter of the day, thus securing the second place of the pool.
“I am very proud of my team." German captain Margareta Anna Kozuch said. "We talked a lot, gave each other confidence and stayed positive even when we had a lesser phase. I am very happy."
In another straight-sets victory, Serbia confirmed their status as undisputed leaders in the pool against Romania 3-0 (25-20, 25-14, 25-15).
“We think only one match ahead, so now we start focusing on the quarterfinal, Serbia coach Zoran Terzic said. "One of our qualities is that we have 14 good players - they all deserve to play. I am lucky that I can change my team every time."