Jiangmen, China, June 22, 2018 - Serbia strengthened their claim for a place in the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League finals with a comfortable 3-0 (25-21, 25-18, 25-17) victory over Canada on Friday that leaned heavily on the influence of middle blocker Srecko Lisinac and his 16 points.
At this late stage in proceedings, it's all about maintaining form and the Serbs look to have arrived in China determined to make the most of their opportunities. Lisinac's input - which included three blocks and five aces - helped keep the Canadians at bay early, before the world's number 11th ranked team continued to build on their impressive form in the VNL and powered away over the final two sets.
Serbian coach Nikola Grbić would also have been delighted with the form of wing spiker Uros Kovacevic (14 points) and opposite spiker Aleksandar Atanasijevic (12 points) and a block count which by the end of the match read in favour of the Europeans 10-0. Such was Grbić's confidence entering the match that he could afford to leave his leading scorer, opposite spiker Drazen Luburic (114 points), out of action and rotate his charges, giving valuable extra court time to the likes of Atanasijevic.
Canada were meanwhile strong in the first set before fading and were led by opposite spiker Gavin Schmitt with a match-high 17 points, along with wing spiker Nicholas Hoag, with seven. A quiet night from Canada's leading scorer wing spiker Stephen Maar (two points from two sets of action) lessened the team's potency. The slight consolation is that the remaining matches in China look easier for Canada - on paper at least.
As the inaugural VNL hits the home stretch, every win is vital for those vying to join hosts France in the finals from July 4-8 in Lille. Serbia arrived in China clinging on to the final spot in the six-team field - and pretty much with destiny in their own hands, while the Canadians were in eighth place and relying on the teams in front of them in the rankings to falter.
The loss - which saw Canada move to 6-7 - makes matters all that more hard.
Serbia will however now be no doubt aiming for a clean sweep of round five, with their 9-7 record now their best in terms of wins in a major tournament since the 2016 World League, when they picked up 10 victories.
Next up for Serbia will be Japan on Saturday, while the Canadians face hosts China.