2018 FIVB World Championship – Women’s European Qualifier
- May 23 to June 4
No. 12 Azerbaijan secured Pool E’s spot in the World Championships with a surprising sweep of No. 5 Netherlands in front of a home crowd of nearly 3,000 in Baku, Ukraine. The Dutch must now advance through the third round of European Qualifying to earn a spot at Worlds.
Israel and Ukraine also won their final matches in pool play.
Israel 3, Norway 1
Israel dominated the net, posting 14 blocks and hitting at a 41 percent clip in a 25-19, 15-25, 25-17, 25-15 win over Norway.
Norway led early in Set 1, but Israel had taken control by the midway point, going up 16-13 en route to the six-point victory. Set 2 saw Israel jump ahead 8-6, only to be outscored 12-2 down the final stretch after Norway knotted the score at 13. Israel hit just 20 percent and allowed Norway five aces and four blocks in the stanza.
The Norwegians held a slim advantage at the first timeout of Set 3, but could not hold on as the Israelis broke away with a 8-3 run en route to the 25-17 win, hitting 52 percent in the process. There was never a doubt in Set 4 as Israel raced out to a 16-8 mid-set lead and never looked back, with help from six blocks.
Anna Velikiy led the Israelis in all phases of the game, racking up a match-high 19 points, including five blocks and three aces. Marmen Vitalia put down a match-best 15 kills and added three aces. Avital Jaloba and Natalia Kruk added 11 and 10 points respectively. Jaloba accounted for five of the team’s blocks.
Julie Heile Mikaelsen managed 16 points, including 15 kills, to lead Norway. Kjersti Norveel (12), Hilde Elvebakk (11) and Ragni Steen Knudsen (11) also posted double-digit point tallies.
“This is the end of our journey,” Norway coach Odd Atle Ekerhovd said. “My team played a few good matches, and we celebrated a victory against Denmark. We haven’t any regrets because this tournament has been a truly important experience for us and we return home much stronger than before.”
Azerbaijan vs. The Netherlands
In the long-awaited battle for the top spot in Pool E between host Azerbaijan and Netherlands started strong, but fizzled as the match went on and the home side claimed a 30-28, 25-22, 25-13 win.
The first set was an indication that neither team was willing to give. The Dutch led by as many as eight at 15-7 but Azerbaijan chipped away. Down 24-21, Azerbaijan rallied to score three straight to tie the score at 24. The Netherlands would have four more set-point chances, but could not close the door. The home team completed the comeback effort with three straight points to grab the 30-28 win.
Azerbaijan overcame a late Dutch rally in Set 2, which cut the score to 22-21, to take the 25-22 win. After falling behind 8-7 early, Azerbaijan cruised to the Set 3 win, going up by nine at 21-12 and holding on for the 25-13 win.
“I am proud of my team,” said Azerbaijan head coach Faig Garayev said. “My girls played with brave hearts and won all five matches without dropping a single set. The game against The Netherlands was very difficult, but after a thrilling opening set, we found our rhythm and eventually beat our opponent. Yes, Azerbaijan have won a ticket to the World Championship but we will soon start preparing for another big challenge coming up this year – the European Championship in Azerbaijan and Georgia.”
Azerbaijan hit 48 percent for the match and tallied 12 blocks in the win. Polina Rahimova racked up a staggering 28 points in the three-set affair, including 23 kills, three blocks and two aces. Yelzaveta Samadova added 17 points, with 14 kills, two blocks and an ace. Natalya Mammadova chipped in 12 points.
Lonneke Sloetjes paced the Dutch with 11 points, all on kills, but hit just 35 percent for the match. Yvon Belien added 10 points, including two of the team’s seven blocks.
“We are really disappointed with the result,” Netherlands coach Jamie Morrison said. “However, we have to learn our lesson. Azerbaijan have qualified for the World Championship, whereas we have to get ready to play the third round of qualifications.”
Ukraine 3, Denmark 0
A strong hitting effort carried Ukraine to a 25-14, 25-18, 25-16 win over Denmark to close out Pool E play. The Ukrainians hit 51 percent for the match, while also managing six blocks and seven aces.
Ukraine led Set 1 nearly start to finish, thanks to four aces and eight Denmark errors, but fell behind by as many as four in Set 2 before rallying for the 25-18 win. After trailing by three early in Set 3, Ukraine again came through for the 25-16 win.
Anna Stephaniuk manage18 points, including 16 kills, while hitting at a 52 percent clip. Nadiia Kodola added 13 points, including 12 kills and a 55 percent efficiency.
Trine Noer Kjelstrup paced the Danes with 13 points, including 11 kills and two aces.