Azerbaijan’s winning streak at the 2017 women’s EuroVolley continued on Friday afternoon as the hosts beat Germany 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-21) to claim a spot in the semis – the first time they achieve such a feat since their debut in the competition back in 2005. Azerbaijan had dropped only one set in the pool stage of the tournament – to Germany – and despite yet another slow start, they once again had the upper hand in their second clash with a young German side to be a step away from what would be their first, historic #EuroVolleyW medal. On Saturday, Azerbaijan will open the programme of the semis playing 2015 silver medallists The Netherlands in what promises to be a truly exciting game – in a repeat from the World Championship qualifier played back in June, which Azerbaijan won 3-0.
The pressure was obviously mostly on Azerbaijan – with the hosts of this year’s EuroVolley vying for their first appearance in a European Championship semi-final since 2005 while playing under the eyes of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr Ilham Aliyev and First Lady, Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva. Germany used this factor to their advantage to fly to a 4-0 lead in the first set, with Azerbaijan somehow continuing their trend of having a rough start to each of their matches. After a time-out, Azerbaijan stopped their negative streak but still trailed 5-8 at the first technical break. Germany displayed a very solid and composed performance (11-7) in their effort to cause a sensation before Azerbaijan levelled the score at 13-13 and eventually edged ahead shortly afterwards with the help of their superstar Polina Rahimova. The home side claimed a small edge and were able to hold on to it – with the set eventually ending on an ace by Rahimova (25-20).
Germany looked determined to put up a fight – and they did so from the early stages of the second set closing in as soon as Azerbaijan claimed a small advantage. However, an ace by Natalya Mammadova propelled the hosts to a 14-10 lead and their well-oiled machine worked just fine as Azerbaijan cruised to a comfortable 25-18 win to double their lead in the match on yet another point scored by Rahimova.
The same trend continued in the third set with Azerbaijan putting a lot of pressure on Germany’s receivers with their powerful serve – and it soon looked like Maren Fromm & Co. were not going to be able to spoil the home side’s party (7-3). Germany’s top scorer in the tournament, opposite hitter Louisa Lippmann did her best to try to lift her team up and rise to the occasion but Azerbaijan’s power was just too much to stand (19-12). Even though Germany surged back to reduce their deficit to four points (22-18), it was only a matter of time until Azerbaijan sealed their 3-0 victory and with it claimed a spot in the #EuroVolleyW semis for the second time in history.
Maren Fromm, team captain of Germany: “Our goal was to fight until the end. We did this throughout this whole European Championship and we wanted to do this today as well. The problem was just that we made too many mistakes to cause them any trouble. I think this was a great experience for our younger players to grow on the way to the next European Championship, where we are going to play. We gave it our best every time, the game against Bulgaria was a great success for us and we achieved our minimum goal, which was to qualify for the next edition of EuroVolley.”
Felix Koslowski, head coach of Germany: “In the first set Azerbaijan showed that you can win with one player in Volleyball, because No. 17 [Polina Rahimova] scored all alone. I think she is the best spiker in the world at the moment. My team played and fought well, but if Rahimova has a day like this, no one can stop her. It was hard for us, since they played with great team spirit, at home. My team tried and fought but they do not have even a half of Azerbaijan’s experience. I saw this team already in 2007, with Rahimova and Mammadova at the European Championship, while for 8-9 players on my team this is the first championship ever, so it’s totally different for them.”
Famil Aghayev, assistant coach of Azerbaijan: “We won 3-0 but it was a difficult match. Germany played really well at this European Championship and we prepared very seriously and thoroughly for this match. We beat Germany for the second time at this tournament and we have secured our first European Championship semi-final since 2005. This is a historic moment for Azerbaijan and the team will now fight for a medal.”
Natalya Mammadova, outside hitter of Azerbaijan: “We made many mistakes of the beginning of the first set. However, after this rough start, we calmed down and showed our best Volleyball. Azerbaijan needed a victory to be able to fulfil our dream – which is to win a medal at this European Championship. Tomorrow we will play against The Netherlands in the semis. The opponent we will face is a very strong one but our team will try to beat the Oranjes.”
Valeriya Mammadova, libero of Azerbaijan: “After 12 years we have made it again to a European Championship semi-final. It such an emotion! After celebrating a victory against Germany, we can start thinking about the medals. This quarterfinal was very difficult, Germany showed good Volleyball but they could not stop us in the end.”