Two years ago, Serbia was in the possession of Ivan Miljkovic, who led his nation to gold cruise. This time, the similar hero has been young Aleksandar Atanasijevic. His perfect contribution secured the bronze medal for Serbia at EuroVolley 2013 after overcoming Bulgaria in straight sets. As far as Bulgaria, you can say “status quo”. Fourth time row Final Four participation on international contest and fourth time no medal.
Serbia – Bulgaria 3 – 0 (25-22, 32-30, 27-25)
Serbia: Jovovic 3, Nikic 8, Lisinac 6, Atanasijevic 22, Kovacevic 18, Podrascanin 8, Risoc (L) and Petric 1
Bulgaria: G. Bratoev 2, Aleksiev 8, Nikolov 4, Sokolov 13, Skrimov 8, Yosifov 5, Salparov (L) and Penchev, Todorov 4, V. Bratoev 6, Milushev 2
After finishing fourth at the 2012 and 2013 World League Finals as well as the London Olympics, this time Bulgaria really wanted to crown their campaign with a medal, the last dating back to 2009 as the group that by that time included also the likes of current team manager Vladimir Nikolov had won bronze at the European Championship in Izmir, Turkey. Thousands of fans had come together at Parken stadium for the final act of the CEV VELUX EuroVolley 2013 and Bulgaria first claimed a very narrow margin at 5:3. Many had predicted this would be a long and close game and Bulgaria had a slight edge in the early phases of the first set until Serbia got to the front at 15:14. Well marshaled by their young setter Nikola Jovovic, the guys from Serbia were displaying once more their unique fighting spirit to approach the final rush with an edge standing at three points (21:18). Still Bulgaria was able to cut the deficit to a minimum (21:20) thereby forcing Serbia mentor Igor Kolakovic into a time-out. Todor Skrimov added another ace to the count of the special contest promoted by title sponsor VELUX to make it 22 all, but Nikola Kovacevic responded by killing the next spike and acing for two set balls at 24:22. Serbia rising star Aleksandar Atanasijevic did not miss on the first opportunity for the 1:0 cashing that set ball with a terrific crosscourt (25-22).
With a single block by Skrimov on Atanasijevic and Tsvetan Sokolov pocketing the next rally, Bulgaria stormed out to a 6:3 lead in the second set; another ace by Sokolov moved the charts up to 9:6 but Serbia was once more able to claw back to draw level at 13. A very good serve by Atanasijevic did shake Bulgaria’s defense line and Nikola Kovacevic was well ready to kill that ball at the net to make it 14:13 for Serbia’s first lead in the set. After setting the pace of the game at the second technical time-out (16:14), and with Bulgaria looking less consistent than in their absolutely phenomenal come-from-behind victory over Poland, the outgoing European champions could keep control of the game, winning also a challenge to make it 21:19. Once more Aleksandar Atanasijevic was the one who paced the Serbian offense but they missed out on two set balls to re-open the fate of the game. Serbia head coach Igor Kolakovic stopped the actions by the score of 24 all, Marko Podrascanin surged back for the 25:24 but Valentin Bratoev responded for the 25:25. He followed up on this action with an ace that prompted a Bulgarian set ball and yet another Serbian time-out, Atanasijevic found a block-out to restore the balance, Sokolov spiked off the bounds, Aleksiev called for the 27:27, but it took a total of seven set balls before Serbia – via Atanasijevic who by this time had already registered 16 points all alone – could cash the 2:0 (32-30).
Serbia continued to shine also in set 3 (6:2) as thousands of fans at Parken stadium were already getting ready for the final showdown starring Russia and Italy coming up later in the afternoon. Serbia was up 11:8 halfway through the third set but their opponents were able to fight back and draw level at 15 on two errors by Atanasijevic. With Milos Nikic failing to complete the next attack, Bulgaria got up by the slimmest margin at the second technical time-out; Serbia had suffered a short black-out but things started working again as Atanasijevic made it 17 all. Bulgaria did again set the pace of the game at 21:18 before Serbia responded with their usual fighting spirit to make it 21:21 and yet another Serbian block flipped the score around (22:21) and resulted into a Bulgarian time-out. Nikola Kovacevic and youngster Nemanja Petric scored two more points to get a couple of chances to close that affair in straight sets, but the Serbs missed out on both before Valentin Bratoev served into the net, and Atanasijevic was blocked as Bulgaria survived a third match ball for their opponents. Serbia’s outstanding opposite – who top scored in the end with 22 points – piled up a fourth match ball and deservedly he was the one who killed the last ball of the game to start the party.
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