Poland, Russia and USA all clinch VNL semifinal berths
Norbert Huber and his Poland teammates fought with heart to win their way into the VNL semifinals
Chicago, USA, July 11, 2019 – Poland and Russia won their FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals Round pool matches against Iran and France, respectively, on Thursday in Chicago. In the process, the United States also reached the semifinals before even playing their final Pool A match as France was eliminated with consecutive losses. The final semifinal spot will be settled on Friday with the Brazil-Iran winner advancing.
Iran – Poland
From the first serve, Iran seemed to be on a mission Thursday in Chicago but it was the inspired young Polish team that came away with the 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-22) victory to gain entry into the semifinals.
Poland, which stunned Brazil in a five-set win to open Pool B, will have a day without competition on Friday to celebrate winning Pool B. Iran are now in a must-win situation on Friday against Brazil with the victor gaining Pool B’s second spot into Saturday’s semifinals.
Bartosz Bednorz led Poland’s offense with 20 attack points on 35 swings, two blocks and two aces for 24 points. Norbert Huber was perfect on attack with eight points on eight swings to go with a team-best five blocks and an ace for 14 points. Maciej Muzaj charted 11 kills on 18 attacks as part of 12 points, while captain Karol Klos contributed 11 points.
“It is an incredible feeling because we are fighting with the heart,” Poland captain Karol Klos said. “I think today was even harder than yesterday because we had less power, less energy. But still all 14 players helped us a lot. We broke them because it was 2-1 and we go for it all. We are for sure first and in the semifinals. I think that is an incredible score for us, but we want more.”
Iran’s Amir Ghafour led his squad with 22 points coming on 19 attacks, two aces and a block. Milad Ebadipour and Purya Fayazi added 10 points.
Poland held a 9-4 margin in aces and a 56-47 advantage in attack points. While Iran held a 12-11 edge in blocks, that gap was wider in the early going until Poland started to make some changes at the net.
“I think the first set we were not blocking and defending,” Poland coach Vital Heynen said. “Our best weapon is block defense. If you don’t block defense, we can’t win. A lot of teams can’t win without block defense. During the match we got better and better. We started to control their spiking and you see a different game. It is crazy. Yesterday we played five sets and we should be the physically weaker one. But we showed to be the stronger one. The longer we played the better we got.”
Throughout the match Iran thrilled the fans who were largely rooting for them. As the players walked off the court, boisterous chants of “Iran-Iran” echoed throughout the Credit Union 1 Arena competition hall among their many fans in the USA.
Iran, the first team to qualify for the VNL Finals other than host USA, ended the preliminary phase with a 12-3 record. Iran’s improvement over 2018 has been remarkable with five additional victories in this year’s preliminary phase. Iran is aiming to win their first world-level title.
Iran controlled much of the opening set and held off a late charge to win 25-21. Early in the second set, Poland led and passion overflowed the middle stages after Iran tied the set at 13-all on a Poland red card. As in yesterday’s win over Brazil, Poland used that red card to spark them to a 4-0 run and a 17-13 advantage and on to a 25-18 victory. Poland went up 2-1 with a 25-20 victory as Iran was unable to maintain momentum long enough. Poland built a 17-14 advantage in the fourth set and controlled the rest of the set for a 25-22 victory.
“It is funny because yesterday we also had a red card and scored a few points right away,” Klos said of one of the turning moments of the match. “Today was the same story. Red card and we started playing again.”
Russia – France
Russia entered the match knowing they could secure a semifinal round berth for themselves with a win over France. Russia’s defense came through big with a 20-7 block advantage resulting in a 3-0 (25-16, 25-23, 25-17) victory with a balanced scoring attack.
Ilyas Kurkaev led an impressive Russian defense at the net with seven blocks as part of a team-high 11 points that included four attack points. Dmitry Volkov, Ivan Iakovlev and Victor Poletaev all contributed 10 points in the victory. Egor Kliuka added four blocks as part of a nine-point performance.
France was led by Jean Patry’s 13 points with 10 attacks and three blocks. Thibault Rossard reached double-figure points with seven kills, three aces and a block.
Russia was too much for France in the opening in winning 25-16. Russia climbed out of an early hole in the second set and built a 19-15. France battled back to a tie at 19-all, but Russia edged out the win at 25-23. Russia took an 18-13 advantage in the middle stages of the third set and capped the match with a 25-17 victory.
While both teams had 29 attack points and three aces, the Russian block was the major factor along with 23 French errors.
“I think the difference was everything today,” France captain Benjamin Toniutti said. “They destroyed us. There is nothing more to say. We are not playing well. We cannot be happy with our performance during this Final Six as we didn’t play our best volleyball even if we missed a lot of important players. We have to play better. Now we come back to France, and work as we have a big tournament in almost a month for Olympic qualification. We just have to come back to France and work really hard and be ready for this competition.”
Even being two wins away from repeating their 2018 VNL title, Russia captain Igor Kobzar said his team is not looking ahead nor looking back.
“We are not thinking right now of the continuation of the previous tournament,” Kobzar said. “We are just thinking about the next match. We need to play better each game.”
When asked what areas Russia needs to improve to win the VNL, Kobzar flatly said everything.
“All the components and to play better,” Kobzar said.
For France, the early exit was disappointing but they will draw from the experience.
“It is all about experience,” France head coach Laurent Tillie said. “Experience is a badge of development. Yes, we were terribly disappointed because we were thinking of our results. We needed more time to recover from the VNL qualification in Brazil. In sport you learn humility and it is important. We don’t have a big amount of players. We have to work better. We have to be ready to fight for each ball. Mentally we need full strength. Today was too much."