Sofia, Bulgaria, June 1, 2018 - Drazen Luburic's superb display helped Serbia come from match-point down to snatch a stunning 5-set victory (25-17, 23-25, 23-25, 25-21, 16-14) over hosts Bulgaria in a thrilling FIVB men's Nations League match at the Arena Armeec.
Luburic was absolutely vital to his side's cause as a poacher as he finished with 19 points, including a fierce spike to give Serbia match point, while Srecko Lisinac (14 points) was also instrumental as the visitors came from 2 sets to 1 behind to win a sensational match as they just about evaded the clutches of Bulgaria to record their 2nd victory in 4 VNL games.
Bulgaria played their part in an unforgettable, high quality contest and looked increasingly stronger as the match wore on as they deservedly took a 2-sets-to-1 lead, with Todor Skrimov the game's top-scorer on 21 points and Nikolay Uchikov weighing in with 18. But, leading 10-5 in the 5th set, they crumbled when the going got tough as Serbia stepped up to win the match thanks to Petar Krsmanovic's ace.
This was a thoroughly entertaining encounter with Serbia settling down early on to quieten a vociferous home crowd with some sensational volleyball as they cantered to the opening set. But Bulgaria came out firing with setter Georgi Seganov pulling the strings, while Skrimov and Uchikov acted as the attacking weaponry to haul Plamen Konstantinov's men in front. But Serbia forced a decider and then saved 2 match points in the 5th before taking victory in 2 hours and 37 minutes.
Sizzling Serbia march on
Serbia played with real verve and tempo with Luburic and Marko Ivovic providing the spikes, while Lisinac - who won 5 points from blocks - was a constant menace at the net.
Krsmanovic served beautifully and setter Uros Kovacevic also had a fine game for a Serbian side that looked exquisite when at their free-flowing best.
And after falling 2 sets to 1 behind, Nikola Grbic's men showed togetherness and defensive resilience to somehow snatch an unlikely victory and 2 precious points when it looked like they'd have to settle for 1 when trailing by 5 points in the 5th set.
Bullish Bulgarians fight back
Bulgaria went into this match in form having beaten China and Argentina in Week 1, but they looked overawed as the host nation early on as they were completely outplayed by a fluid and powerful Serbian side.
But to their credit, Konstantinov's men, led by the excellent setter Seganov and flanked by the highly dangerous Skrimov and Uchikov, grabbed the game by the scruff of the net.
The exceptional blocking duo of Svetoslav Gotsev (5 blocks from 22 attempts) and Viktor Yosifov (3 blocks from 9) were suddenly stopping Serbia at source and they took sets 2 and 3 (both 25-23) to take charge of the match.
Bulgaria - with Uchikov and the captain Yosifov outstanding in the 5th set - looked like taking victory, but Valentin Bratoev had a meltdown by missing crucial spikes with the hosts on match point as Serbia came back to spoil the party.
Drazen Luburic was far from flawless and looked off at times defensively, but his 19 points - including a crucial spike to bring up match point - and incredible power proved the difference.