Magic Milenkovic seals Serbia's finals ticket
The Serbs arrived in South America knowing bagging maximum points would be enough for them to reach the finals in China.
And following a stellar display with a mainly second string team minus the powerful Tijana Boskovic and head coach Branko Kovacevic who didn’t travel to Santa Fe, the Europeans brilliantly put an end to the Americans amazing run and served notice of their quality with a super win.
Wing spiker Milenkovic, 21, was the star - ending with 17 spikes and six blocks while the similarly excellent Ana Bjelica weighed in with a healthy 20 spikes. Jelena Blagojevic finished with 15 points to cap an excellent all round display.
“We did a great job,” said Bjelica. “We came here with young players but we showed we can beat anyone.”
Perhaps Karch Kiraly’s side already have one eye on the finals having already sealed their ticket last week but their passing game was left wanting here - they also gave up 27 errors compared to 23 from the Serbs - in what was a repeat of the Olympic semifinals in Rio two years ago which saw Serbia bag a 3-2 win.
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was the top scorer with 22 spikes, three blocks and an ace while Andrea Drews scored 10 and Foluke Akinradewo notched 11 but it wasn’t enough to stop the US sliding to what is just their second defeat of an otherwise highly successful campaign so far.
Serbia have won the opening set in each of their last six VNL matches and that kind of excellent start was dished up once again although it was a rollercoaster ending which swayed both ways.
At 19-19, the set was very much in the balance and a brilliant block by American star Carli Lloyd kept the pressure on Serbia with the score at 23-22.
The momentum continued to switch with both sides saving set points only for an American serve to smack into the net and allow Serbia to take the lead. Milenkovic and Bjelica already had 13 points between them while Bojana Zivkovic was setting superbly.
The USA, however, are too good a side not to hit back and the second set saw a more cohesive performance.
Moving the ball was still problematic but the tide turned thanks to a superb Adams block - she finished with six - at 19-19, made all the more brilliant considering she was smashed in the face earlier in the rally. Now did the VNL leaders have the confidence and power to really push on and deny Serbia? No way.
This was the European’s night as the deadly duo of Milenkovic and Bjelica really came to the fore with the Americans outspiked 13-8 before the fourth set which was the least competitive of the match as Serbia’s players jumped for joy at the final point.
On this evidence, their depth of squad could prove key as the battle for VNL glory begins to seriously hot up.
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