26 years after their silver medal in East Berlin, Poland clinched gold at the European Championships in Izmir. The East Europeans overpowered France 3:1. Bulgaria took bronze, outclassing Russia in straight sets.
France made a blistering start and their pace was too much for Poland in the early stages of the 2009 CEV European Championships final encounter, leading 6-4, and 8-7 at the first technical timeout. The Polish machine began to go to work slowly, but there was no stopping the gentle ace from Romain Vadeleux that sailed through the Polish court, 10-7. Daniel Castellani asked for a break to give his boys some tactical hints. On the restart, Poland fought back quickly, with Gruszka spiking dominant on the right. At the second technical timeout, the Poles came closer, 15-16. Some moments later, French head coach Philippe Blain brought in Edouard Rowlandson for Guillaume Samica, but Polish Daniel Plinski served two aces in a row to move Poland ahead, 22-19. France fought back bravely to level the game at 22-22, then at 26-26 and 27-27. But the Poles kept the upper hand with Bartosz Kurek flying high from back row, 29-27!
France jumped out for an early 12-9 lead in the second set with Stéphane Antiga and Samica firing some missiles through the Polish block, but Poland didn’t let loose to bounce back to 12-12. Michal Bakiewicz took the East Europeans into the second technical timeout with a two-point lead, 16-14, and at 14-18, Blain called a timeout to restructure their offensive and defensive patterns. The French now completely lost their rhythm, especially in reception, and the Poles moved forward to 21-15. Antiga countered a first Polish set ball at 19-24 with a clever block out shot, but two rallies later Gruska finished it on the right, 25-21 and 2-0 Poland.
The French were finding their momentum again in the third period, and when Vadeleux served another winner for 8-4, the Poles needed the technical break to regain control. Some brilliant French defenses caused Poland to overreact and fire wildly into the French block. With errors on serve reception and attack, Poland trailed 7-16 (!) at the second technical timeout. The set was now over as a contest for the Poles, and France moved on quickly, 20-11. Michal Ruciak gave “les bleus” a first set ball with a poor serve at 16-24, and Kurek sent it wide one rally later to hand over France the third set with little resistance.
With Polish Gruszka (16 points) and French Rouzier (18) and Samica (16) on fire, both teams exchanged some exciting combinations in the beginning of the fourth set. Poland moved ahead quicker, 8-5 at the first technical timeout. But the French stayed focused to level the game again at 12-12. French captain Olivier Kieffer hammered one through the middle, and his opponent Marcin Mozdzonek did the same one rally later, 17-17. The Poles put a lot of pressure on the French attackers, and when Samica sent it wide, Poland regained command at 19-17. At 20-21, Rouzier took too much risk from back row, but two rallies later, he compensated it with a scorching winner, 22-22, and then 23-23. Plinski brought up match point through the middle, but Rouzier saved one on the right. 2009 Men’s European Championships Most Valuable player Gruszka fired another missile to give Poland a second match point at 25-24, and closed it out again one rally later to bounce the Polish team and more than 2,000 thrilled Polish supporters in heaven.
Bulgaria started the bronze medal match in dazzling style, with super star Matey Kaziyski present at the net, and setter Andrey Zhekov distributing the balls fast and precisely. Russian head coach Daniele Bagnoli called a timeout at 9-13, but Russia was still trailing four points at the second technical timeout. The Russians acted far away from their top level; on the other hand Bulgarians were ready to fight resolutely for their fourth possible bronze medal in history (after 1955, 1981 as well as 1983).
Bulgaria still proved too strong for the clumsy Russians in set No. 2. Vladimir Nikolov blocked for a 16-10 Bulgarian lead at the second technical timeout. However, the Russian bear was still alive; closing the gap to one point at 19-20. Some moments later, Russian Volkov leveled to 22-22 with a power block in the middle, forcing Bulgarian head coach Silvano Prandi to ask for another short break. The set now balanced on a knife’s edge until 24-25, before Bulgarian Nikolov closed it out with an ace, 2-0.
As during their semifinal against France, the Russians reached their full working temperature in the third set, and led 8-4 in the first as well as 16-13 in the second technical timeout. Prandi tried to reorganize the Bulgarian way of play at 16-19, and apparently it worked as the Bulgarians turned around the score in their favor, 20-19. Kaziyski moved the scoreboard to 22-10 with a blistering winner from the left. Some moments later, he reappeared on the right to fire another rocket through the Russian defense to bring up three Bulgarian match points. The Bulgarians kept cool and ended it with a block kill, 25-21, to celebrate their fourth bronze medal in history.
“This moment will stay forever in Bulgarian memories”, said head coach Silvano Prandi. “I thank the Bulgarian federation, but especially the players who made a great job during the last month. They improved a lot in blocking and attacking, I’m very proud.”
“It’s the first medal for Bulgaria in such a big competition”, added Bulgarian captain Vladimir Nikolov. “We are so happy about that. Our coach did a lot of work, thank you very much.”
Best Scorer: Antonin Rouzier (FRA)
Best Setter: Pawel Zagumny (POL)
Best Spiker: Alexander Volkov (RUS)
Best Server: Yury Berezhko (RUS)
Best Blocker: Viktor Yosifov (BUL)
Best Receiver: Stéphane Antiga (FRA)
Best Libero: Hubert Henno (FRA)
Most Valuable Player: Piotr Gruszka (POL)
1. Poland (gold medal)*
2. France (silver medal)*
3. Bulgaria (bronze medal)*
7. The Netherlands
16. Czech Republic