Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallists Serbia emulated what the Netherlands had done earlier in the afternoon while playing Italy – as they dispatched Belarus in consecutive sets (25-19, 25-12, 25-14) to secure their spot in the 2017 women’s EuroVolley semis where they will be playing the winners of Friday’s highly anticipated matchup between Russia and Turkey. Belarus could never pose a real threat to the powerful players from Serbia – who look determined to improve on the bronze medal they won two years ago in Rotterdam.
Belarus were definitely the underdogs going into the match – the first-ever between the former Soviet Republic and Serbia at any major Volleyball competition. They certainly had a mountain to climb as they took on last year’s Olympic silver medallists but they played with much courage, thus keeping the score close for most of the opening set. As this had literally changed the course of their previous game with the Czech Republic, Belarus coach Piotr Khilko decided Anastasiya Harelik would be his side’s opposite hitter again but as the match progressed, Serbia slowly stretched their lead (17-11). The bronze medal winners from the 2015 women’s EuroVolley were able to hold on to this advantage and eventually rallied to a 25-19 win.
The second set followed a similar plot – with Serbia slowly but surely imposing their rule as their main assets – Brankica Mihajlovic and Tijana Boskovic – unleashed their power to propel their team to a massive 22-11 lead. It did not last long until Boskovic spiked yet another time to seal a 25-12 victory for what looked an easy ride for Team Serbia.
Belarus were hoping to surge back as they had done in their previous matchups with Croatia in Tbilisi and Czech Republic the other day in Baku, but the opponent standing on the other side of the net was a much tougher one this time around. With Serbia leading 6-1 early in the third set, that scenario was not much likely to materialise. Serbia’s quality was simply too much for Belarus (17-10) and the players coached by Khilko rapidly had to realise they had to be content with equalling their best result at the European Championship since 1995 – and by finishing among the top eight, with securing their participation in the 2019 edition co-hosted by Turkey, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic.
Aksana Kavalchuk, team captain of Belarus: “Obviously we knew we were playing the silver medal winners from last year’s Olympics and were aware that they were the heavy favourites going into this match. However, we wanted to fight and show our level and character – and unfortunately, we did not quite succeed in doing so. Obviously there is quite a difference between these two teams at this very moment.”
Piotr Khilko, head coach of Belarus: “We played with a big heart but Serbia was really good. After the first set, we tried to change the situation and made some changes to the initial starting six. However, Serbia’s attack was very effective. We are happy and satisfied with our results at this European Championship. We played for the first time in the quarterfinals and this is a happy moment for our team and our country. I want to congratulate Team Serbia and wish them all the best for the remainder of this tournament.”
Zoran Terzic, head coach of Serbia: “At this moment Serbia is of course a better team than Belarus and we expected to win today. However, we saw some matches that Belarus played before in the tournament, especially against Croatia and Czech Republic, where they were losing 0-2 and eventually won 3-2. Therefore, we knew it could become dangerous if we did not play with full power. However, today we played good enough to win 3-0.”