Aleksandar Atanasijevic drew Serbian dreams out for the European Champion title. This young opposite led his team to convincing win over one of the greatest surprise of the tournament, held in Poland and Denmark, of Belgium. Despite the fact the “Red Dragons” were feeling the aroma of semi-final, having significant advantage and then few set balls on the 3rd set, they will not repeat the success of female Belgian National team, which stood on the lowest stair of the podium ten days ago.
Belgium – Serbia 1 – 3 (22-25, 25-22, 28-30, 18-25)
Belgium: Depestele 1, Deroo 14, Van De Voorde 4, Van Den Dries 2, Klinkenberg 15, Verhess 10, Dejonckheere (L) and Claes, Van Walle 12, Verscheuren, Tuerlinckx 1
Serbia: Jovovic, Nikic 8, Stankovic 9, Atanasijevic 29, Kovacevic 18, Podrascanin 9, Rosic (L) and Petrovic, Lisinac 6
The second match of the day in Aarhus opened with a stunning service ace from Serbia’s opposite player Aleksandar Atanasijevic. That seemed to affect the Belgian play which was quite shaky with several misplaced spikes and poor services. Belgium was behind 4-8 at the first technical time-out. Coach Dominique Baeyens called a much needed time-out as his guys were trailing 5-10. Sam Deroo was on fire after spiking three points in a row and after a kill block Belgium reduced the gap to only two points (11-13). Serbia mentor Igor Kolakovic called a time-out but he did not get what he had wished as Belgium could even flip the charts around at the second mandatory stop going up 16-15. Still Serbia leveled the score at 18-18 and after that could keep the lead up to the final 25-22.
Serbia kept the upper hand in this close combat also in the early phases of the second set (8-6). The Belgian blocks were not that effective and when Serbia made it 7-11 Baeyens called his first time-out of the set. It helped and Belgium went to the front, 16-15 at the second technical time-out. The two teams kept holding hand all the way to 21-21 as Belgium finally took a two point lead closing the set with the same score as Serbia had done in the first set (25-22).
This insistently tight contest continued in the third set where Belgium for the first time moved ahead at the first technical time-out (8-7). The “Red Dragons” had tightened their blocking game and grabbed a 16-14 lead at the second technical time-out and Belgium seemed likely to take the third set having a three point lead all the way to 21-18. They missed on their first set ball at 24-23 and Serbia refused to let the set go and survived no less than five Belgian set points up to 28-28. Here Serbia took the lead and closed the set 30-28.
The many misused set balls seemed to have affected the Belgians morale in the fourth set. Serbia quickly got a five point lead (10-5) and widened it to 16-8 at the second technical time-out. Belgium was almost already in the shower. Serbia never looked back and won the set 25-18 and the match 3-1.
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Belgium team captain Frank Depestele said: “Of course I am disappointed. We had hoped to get to Copenhagen. But we are not really where we shall be tonight. The tension and rhythm were simply not there. The first set was tight, and even though we won the second set, we still were missing that last sparkle. Then we had five set balls in the third set, and after missing out on this opportunity, we totally lost our mood in the last set. We are not all disappointed as this will qualify us for the 2015 European Championship. Congratulations to Serbia, they are a great team and will for sure have a chance to defend their title in Parken”.
Serbia’s Aleksandar Atanasijevic scored 29 points to pace his side: “We knew that today’s match would be really difficult and once again we showed a really big heart. We had our chances in the second set but we started to make some stupid mistakes and I made some untypical mistakes on the attack and we were not in the right place. The third set was the highlight of today’s match. They played really good and we did not serve well. They had their chances but in the end we showed that we never give up until the last ball and this win is very important to us because our goal before the competition was to get to the semi-final. I am happy for these guys because this is a new team and no one expected that we would reach the semi-final in the first big competition and now we are without any pressure. We lost 3-2 in the World League against Russia but we will get our chance and we must use this chance, otherwise they will kill us”.