Varna, Bulgaria, June 16, 2018 - Boyan Yordanov summoned his vast experience to inspire Bulgaria past Canada and delight local fans in phase four of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Saturday.
The veteran overcame a slow start to finish with 21 points to be the standout performer in Bulgaria's convincing 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 29-27) victory.
The upset result ended Bulgaria's (4-7) three-match losing streak in the VNL and they received tireless efforts across the board, particularly from captain Viktor Yosifov (4 blocks) and livewire Valentin Bratoev (12 points).
It was a costly defeat for Canada and a major letdown after a spectacular upset of Brazil on Friday. It was also a blow to their finals hopes as they sit delicately positioned at 6-5 overall. Canada had numerous players below their best but Graham Vigrass (17 points) tried valiantly against the odds with a stellar all-round game highlighted by imposing serving.
In a bid to spark his slumping team, Bulgaria coach Plamen Konstantinov decided against starting star wing spiker Nikolay Uchikov and that surprise decision appeared to backfire in the early going.
Canada started brightly due to imposing middle blocker Vigrass, who was in the thick of the action with an imperious kill and a booming block to continue his strong form. The visitors looked the sharper and more organised team but they made several sloppy errors to ensure little separated the sides on the scoreboard.
Points were generally short in the early going except for one memorable lengthy rally that was highlighted by the bizarre sight of Bratoev getting hit in the head on the rebound from his attempted strike. Yordanov, who was given a chance to start, struggled to get past Canada's powerful front line but sizzling serving from Nikolay Penchev fuelled a Bulgarian run of four straight points against the run of play to regain the lead.
After a sluggish start, Yordanov summoned his wealth of experience with clutch plays deep in the first set to spark the passionate local fans who could sense Bulgaria claiming their first set of the fourth phase.
Bulgaria stunningly wrapped up the first set when Jay Blankenau sprayed a serve as Canada's monumental upset of Brazil suddenly felt like a distant memory.
The momentum carried over to the second set with Bratoev starting with a blistering spike as Bulgaria raced out to an early 4-1 lead.
Canada was unable to find their rhythm with a misfiring Stephen Marr's frustration symbolising his team's lacklustre performance. A rejuvenated Bulgaria were dominating at the net and executing perfectly timed sets to rattle Canada and build a commanding 12-7 advantage.
Yordanov continued to inspire Bulgaria with precise spikes and his enthusiasm was being heartily embraced by the boisterous fans who could sense an upset brewing. With their backs to the wall, Vigrass produced a couple of aces in a desperate bid to engineer a fightback as Canada claimed five of six points.
Canada's comeback bid was being stymied by careless mistakes indicative of when Blankenau touched the net on a put away during a crucial point with his team trailing 19-15. Bulgaria would not be denied through relentless hustle and they deservedly closed it out with Nikolay Penchev blasting a spike as the crowd inside Palace of Culture and Sport erupted in euphoria.
In an attempt to dig out of a deep hole, Canada started the third set quickly and were aided by some rash errors from Bulgaria as they raced out to a 7-2 lead to silence the partisan crowd. With the set quickly slipping away, Bulgaria rediscovered their flair marked by an astonishing Teodor Salparov pickup which was put away deftly by Yosifov as the hosts won six of seven points to deadlock the score at 10 apiece.
Svetoslav Gotsev menaced at the net to propel Bulgaria into the lead but the set was headed towards a dramatic finish with Canada having four chances to stretch the match to a fourth set. Canada blew two of their set points through service errors and Bulgaria made them pay as they capitalised on their first match point through a Gotsev block to trigger wild celebrations.
Bulgaria plays slumping Brazil on Sunday to close out phase four, while Canada faces in-form France.