Matosinhos, Portugal, June 22, 2018 - Portugal play Cuba and the Czech Republic meet Estonia Saturday in the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup, where it's come down to the last four in the race for one single ticket available to the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
The winner of the VCC gets to play in the 2019 Volleyball Nations League, replacing Korea who will finish last amongst the Challenger Teams in this year's edition (regardless of what happens this weekend in the VNL).
Semifinals schedule, Saturday in Matosinhos (all times local, GMT+1):
18:00 - Portugal v Cuba
21:00 - Czech Republic v Estonia
Estonia claimed the last remaining berth in the semifinals on Friday, after hosts Portugal shut out Kazakhstan 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-16) to top Pool A. The result left Kazakhstan winless and bottom of the table, and gave Estonia the qualifying ticket.
Portugal players celebrate claimingfirst place in their 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup pool together with their mascot in Matosinhos.
Portugal outblocked (8-5) and outserved (11-2) the Asian side, with Caique Silva and Lourenco Martins sharing best-scoring honours for the hosts at 11 points each. Maxim Michshenko with 16 points for Kazakhstan was the game's best scorer, but it was hardly enough to push his team to something substantial.
"Our first goal was achieved," said Portugal coach Hugo Silva after the game. "We are in the semifinals. Today, after guaranteeing the first place, we gave opportunity to all players and I can say that they came through, confirming that we have 12 players committed in winning this competition and guaranteeing a place within the world volleyball elite. It will not be easy, since Cuba is... Cuba, a potent world power who despite the youth of their players showed today that they are a strong team."
Kazakhstan coach Igor Nikolchenko admitted his team's shortcomings: "We've lacked some luck, but without service and mainly without reception it was impossible to attack and win sets."
Cuba edge Chile, advance to top four
Earlier on Friday, Cuba had claimed their own spot amongst the last four with a very hard-earned win 3-1(38-36, 25-22, 29-31, 25-19) over Chile. The Czech Republic had already secured top position in Pool B since Thursday.
Miguel Castro and Osniel Melgarejo Hernandez, with 25 and 21 points respectively led the scoring for Cuba, who smothered their opponents with their blocking. Cuba did concede as many as 44 points from unforced errors, but Chile were not far behind on 36.
Cuba's Livan Osoria strikes past Chile's Simon Guerra as the Caribbean team gain entry to the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup semifinals in Matosinhos.
"We played well," said Cuba's outside hitter Osniel Melgarejo Hernandez. "The first set was played point by point, but we won it. We worked hard throughout the match and I think that we were better that our opponents. Tomorrow we will not look to the name of our opponent. Our goal is to reach the final."
Chile captain Dusan Bonacic said, "we knew that it would be a very complicated match, because the attack, block and service of Cuba are well known. We didn't win but I'm very happy we kept o fighting for the victory and left all on the court. I congratulate my teammates because they did everything to win. I'm very happy with our attitude; we played as a true team."
Quick links: FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cups