Czechs, Portuguese take first step towards 2019 Men's VNL


Portugal captain Alex Ferreira tries to get past the Estonian block of Andri Aganits and Kert Toobal, as he leads the hosts to an emphatic opening victory at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup.

Matosinhos, Portugal, June 20, 2018 - The Czech Republic and hosts Portugal opened with wins at the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Challenger Cup in Matosinhos, from which one of the six participating teams will qualify for the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. They both scored straight-set victories over Cuba and Estonia respectively, which almost guarantees them a place in the semifinals.

The Czech Republic set the pace, opening procedures with a solid 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-21) sweep of Cuba. The match-high 24 points of Miguel Gutierrez for the Caribbean side proved too little, as the Czechs outblocked their opponents 8-3 who also conceded 26 unforced errors.

Michal Finger was best scorer of the winners, with 18 points and an incredible 89% (17/19) attacking efficiency.

Michal Finger strikes past the block of Cuba's Osniel Melgarejo, as he leads the Czech Republic to an opening match victory at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in Matosinhos.

"I confess that we weren't expecting to win by this result," said Czech Republic captain Jakub Janouch after the game. "We played very well and led the sets from the beginning, creating a 2/3 points advantage. Tomorrow we will face Chile and we will win, since we want to advance first in our pool."

"We prepared well for this competition and I think that both teams played at a great level," said top scorer Gutierrez. "The Czech Republic were superior and made fewer errors. We need to organize and improve our defense. We have to win the match on Friday, against Chile because our goal is to advance into the semifinals."

Portugal overwhelm Estonia
Portugal followed suit with a emphatic 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-20) over Estonia, led by captain Alex Ferreira who bagged 23 points, including serving five of the hosts' seven aces.

Estonia, fresh from winning the European Golden League last week, did try to react in the third set, but Portugal broke away after 16-16 and never looked back.

"I've always said that if this team played with confidence in their quality they could face any opponent," said Portugal coach Hugo Silva after the win. "We won against the team that won the Golden European League, but there are still some errors that we need to fix, so that what happened in this third set won't happen again. We won because we prepared well for this match, we played better and took advantage of the public's support."

Gheorghe Cretu, the Estonia coach said: "We weren’t counting with this result, but we knew that this would be a complicated match. Portugal played well and deserved to win, but we made more mistakes in three sets that in the last matches. Tomorrow, against Kazakhstan it will be a completely different match. We will face a team that we don't know. We do know that they watched our match and that they are prepared to face us. It will be a difficult game, but the most important thing will be to rectify the errors done today."

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