Bulgaria a force to reckon with once again
Bulgaria will count on the likes of Tsvetan Sokolov
In January, the team coached by Plamen Konstantinov missed out on Olympic qualification for the first time in twelve years. They also failed to meet their objectives when they finished thirteenth at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in 2014 – their worst-ever result.
However, things are looking up for Bulgarian volleyball. Coach and players are sure that success at the Wagner Memorial tournament will usher in more victories in the FIVB Volleyball World League, as Bulgaria have returned to compete with the best teams in the world in Intercontinental Group 1.
“The Wagner Memorial was the perfect test for the FIVB World League, the highlight of our season in 2016. I am very happy that we won the tournament. We came mainly in order to play well. We have a new setter, and matches with a new player in this position are always difficult. But we beat Poland, Serbia and Belgium, who are among the top teams in Europe and the world,” explained head coach Konstantinov.
Much of the momentum for this recovery has been provided by two players. Konstantinov has placed his trust in 22-year-old setter Georgi Seganov, who was voted best in his position in Poland. Superstar Tsvetan Sokolov was also voted MVP.
Sokolov had been missing for a long time due to injury and has been scoring more points than ever since his return. “Good work, team. It’s always nice to start with a trophy,” tweeted Sokolov. “We want to continue to surprise. I do not think anyone expected us to win the Wagner Memorial, but we deserved it,” said Viktor Yosifov, captain of the Bulgarian team. In the FIVB World League, the team will also be able to call on other top performers like Vladislav Ivanov, who was voted best libero at the Wagner Memorial.
But it will be hard work for Bulgaria’s volleyballers in this year's FIVB World League. They will play world champions Poland, 2012 Olympic champions Russia and Serbia on the first weekend from June 17 to 19 in Kaliningrad. Other opponents in the preliminary round will be FIVB World Championship runners-up Brazil, Iran, FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup winners USA and Australia.
Plamen Konstantinov is working hard to change the mentality of the team: “We must fix this - I don't want my players to feel like one victory is enough.” Bulgaria, co-hosts of the European Championship last year, want to put together a powerful team by 2018, built around experienced players like Sokolov, and talented youngsters. In two years’ time, the country will co-host the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship with Italy and would love to echo past successes by winning a medal at the tournament.
When announcing the hosting of the event, Bulgarian Minister for Youth and Sport Krassen Kralev said: “We had a very successful European Championship, but this is an even bigger event – one of the biggest in our sporting history. It’s a big challenge but a great opportunity at the same time.” Bulgarian Volleyball Federation President Dancho Lazarov added: “We will organise an even better World Championship.” Ideally, this would be paired with spectacular success for Bulgaria.
Volleyball is one of the top sports in Bulgaria, and fans’ favourites like stars Matey Kaziyski and Tsvetan Sokolov are well-known sporting heroes in their country. There is a strong tradition around volleyball in Bulgaria and the men’s team has always been one of the leading nations in the world, as proven by their long list of achievements: one silver medal (1970) and four bronze medals (1949, 1952, 1986, 2006) at World Championships, as well as one second place (1951) and four third places (1955, 1981, 1983, 2009) at the European Championships. The greatest success came at the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, when Bulgaria finished second.
Medals have so far eluded the Bulgarians in the FIVB World League although they have finished a thankless fourth on five occasions (1994, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2013). It would truly be a great comeback if they could reach the podium for the very first time this year.
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