The final day of LOTTO EUROVOLLEY POLAND 2017 started with the bronze medal match featuring Serbia and Belgium. The Serbians were still heart-broken following their dramatic semi-final loss to Germany whereas Belgium wanted to recover after Russia had thrashed the Red Dragons in Saturday’s second semi-final. The duel turned out to be a long and exciting battle, with Serbia eventually sealing the bronze medal after coming from behind (3-2; 25-17, 22-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-12). As a result, Serbia claimed their 11th medal in the competition and their eighth bronze medal – counting also those won by Yugoslavia and Serbia & Montenegro. Only Russia (22, including 2017) and Italy (13) have bagged more European Championship medals. Serbia’s eight bronze medals are an all-time record in the competition.
Serbia raced to an early 7-2 lead after Nemanja Petrić’s ace but it was not as easy as they probably thought, for Belgium defended ferociously and even managed to reduce their gap to 6-8. The Serbians had however more firepower and consistency and kept their firm lead – it reached 17-9 following another block. A successful spike from Dražen Luburić gave them their first set point, with the next rally finished by Marko Podraščanin at 25-17.
The second period again showed that Serbia were able to play on a higher level than the opponent, as at first Belgium had to pay for every point with an extreme effort and they hardly could keep up with the tempo dictated by Nikola Grbić’s team. However, the Belgians recklessly took advantage of a moment of Serbian weakness and Gert van Walle completed the comeback – as his spike from the right wing moved the score to 7-all. After Pieter Verhees stopped Petrić, Sam Deroo’s block-out gave his team a much desired 10-9 lead. The close part of the set included many service faults and a slow revival of the Serbians, who held a slight 16-14 margin at the second technical break. Not for long, though as Belgium felt capable of posing a threat to Serbia, who were trying to survive their ups and downs, and van Walle spiked another kill to propel them to an 18-16 lead. A magnificent digging performance by Vital Heynen’s warriors paved their way to a three-point advantage (20-17) and they held on to it, with Simon Van de Voorde finishing it off at 25-22 to tie the match.
The start of the next set did not mean the end of Serbia’s struggles, as they quickly fell back to 2-5. The Belgians blocked more and more spikes as they obviously had found their rhythm – a Deroo’s kill gave them a 12-7 advantage. Serbian captain Dragan Stanković entered the court to help his teammates and their performance improved but it was not enough change the course of the game as the Belgians still found ways to overcome the Serbian efforts – they took advantage of poor reception and van Walle made it 21-15. Luburić’s kill tightened the gap to 18-22 but it was Sam Deroo, who closed out the period at 25-19.
The Belgians started the fourth set with a quick 4-1 run but then Serbia raised their heads, with Stanković completing the comeback and taking the lead at 5-4. They showed some of a long unseen vigour as a couple of blocks propelled them to 11-7. Belgium fought back fiercely and Kevin Klinkenberg blasted an ace to get the tie at 14-all. Another swing was coming and the Serbians immediately replied with a three-point series, and after van Walle was hit hard in the face the scoreboard showed 18-15 in Serbia’s favour. Van Walle could not get intimidated though as he kept his team in play and another spike of his helped Belgium close in (20-21). The tie however was not to happen as the Serbians held on to what was left of their initial big margin and managed to go all the way to the tiebreak at 25-22 after Klinkenberg’s mistake.
The final set started with a single block of Srećko Lisinac and his team kept rolling as Lisinac paired up with Petrić to stop van Walle and race ahead to 3-0. Serbia could not keep the initial advantage though as Luburić was not able to convert twice and the Belgians tied the score up at 3-3. The Belgians showed some nervousness and fell back to 4-7 but Van de Voorde scored three times in four rallies to get back to 7-8. Uroš Kovačević struggled a bit but Lisinac, who provided a couple of crucial points, maintained Serbia’s lead in the game. Vital Heynen’s time-out at 11-13 did not help his team much as the Serbians took advantage of their first match ball and Kovačević’s kill eventually gave them the bronze medals they fought so hard for.
Dražen Luburić was the true leader of his team and piled up 26 points. Gert van Walle and Simon Van de Voorde, who scored 16 each, topped the Belgian charts.
Nikola Grbic, head coach of Serbia: “It was an extremely tough match, because we had to come back on court after less than 24 hours since our loss to Germany. We had to overcome all emotional obstacles, so my greatest congratulations to my players for this unbelievable performance. They did their best on court and gave everything to claim this medal. We overcame all emotional and physical difficulties and showed very good Volleyball. I think that we played better matches earlier in this tournament, but considering the fact that it was the last match and we won a tiebreak after such an intensive match yesterday, which also ended after five sets - I can say that we played the best we could.”
Nemanja Petric, player of Serbia: “It was very difficult to come back after yesterday’s loss. In my opinion, it was the biggest obstacle, so I am happy that we won this game. We deserved this medal, we were very close to achieving something more and of course, I feel sorry for it, but we claimed bronze and we are happy about it. At some point, it looked like it was impossible to change the course of the game, but we came back. The whole team showed their hearts on the court, we played all for one, one for all. We have great players and I would like to thank them all for it.”
Drazen Luburic, player of Serbia: “I have already congratulated all of my teammates on this victory, because after yesterday’s loss to Germany it was very hard to come back today, not only physically, but also mentally. When we got back to the hotel last night, everyone was very upset and it was the biggest challenge for us to forget about what all happened. We worked very hard to change the result when we were losing 2:1. Our team triumphed in the World League last year, so we were aware of our quality and potential. However, this bronze medal is an amazing achievement.”
Pieter Verhees, middle blocker of Belgium: “I feel much disappointment. We were very close to winning the bronze medal. When it is that close, it is even more painful. We did not start very well, but in the third set, we served good, and we put a lot of pressure on them. From the third set, we controlled the game. Ok, we made history for our country by finishing fourth, but we wanted to take a medal home. Yesterday Russia was too strong, but today we felt that we could win this medal, and we really believed in that. We tried to achieve this goal with everything we had, but little details made the difference in the end.”
Vital Heynen, Belgium coach: “We showed that we deserved to play in this Final Four. At this very moment, I feel a little disappointed, because this medal was not so far, and it was incredible that we came back and we showed that we could play at this level. Now, we have two steps to learn. First, how to lose, and next step is to learn how to win.”