Two down, two to go for Volleyball Challenger Cup semis


Top scorer Donovan Dzavoronok gets the better of Chile's Gabriel Araya and Matias Banda on the net at Matosinhos, as he leads the Czech Republic to the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup.

Matosinhos, Portugal, June 21, 2018 - The Czech Republic and Portugal both secured their tickets to the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup on Thursday - the Czechs scoring their second win in as many games in the competition and Portugal without having to play.

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).

The Czech Republic defeated Chile 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-18) to finish top of their pool in the VCC on an absolutely perfect record and set up a semifinal on Saturday against the second-ranked team of the other pool.

The Czechs were led by Donovan Dzavoronok who scored a match-high 12 points, including two aces and two blocks. Coach Michal Nekola got the opportunity to give court time to all but one of his players (especially after the first set when his team secured their qualification), as the Czechs outplayed Chile across the board, with 10-5 blocks, 6-1 aces and 51% (38/75) to 38% (30/79) in attack.

"I don't have a preference for any opponent in the semifinals, Portugal, Estonia or Kazakhstan they all have good teams but we are prepared," said Czech coach Michal Nekola after securing their ticket to the top four. "We will have a day off to rest and prepare for our semifinal. This competition has a good level and teams such as Cuba and Chile are very young which means that they have a good future. Today we were better in all aspects and we used all the team and I was pleased with our match."

"The Czech Republic and Chile are two very different teams," commented Chile coach Daniel Nejamkin. "Even so we were able to even the score until, 16, 17 points. Afterwards, the greater experience and superiority of the Czech Republic, mainly in service and block, were decisive. We came this far and our dream or ambition is to play the four matches".

Robert Taht of Estonia gets past the Kazakh block of Anton Kuznetsov and Sergey Kuznetsov at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in Matosinhos.

Kazakhstan lose to Estonia, but send Portugal through
Earlier on Thursday Estonia bounced back from their opening day defeat to beat Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 25-20) and stay in the race for a ticket to the semifinals.

But the minute Kazakhstan clinched that second set, Portugal were mathematically through to the semis. Kazakhstan can also advance, but they'd have to beat Portugal on Friday for full points - otherwise it's Estonia who join the hosts in the last four.

Kazakhstan's Maxim Michshenko was top scorer of the game on 21 points, but Estonia got their scoring better distributed, with 17 points from Renee Teppan, 16 from Robert Taht, 12 each from Timo Tammemaa and Andri Aganits, and 11 from Kristo Kollo, who came on off the bench to substitute Oliver Venno.

Estonia were superior in serving (11 aces to 5) and blocking (16 stuffs to 10), but Kazakhstan's edge in attacking 49% (49/99) to 47% (45/95) was too slight to make a difference.

"We didn't play a good match, but what matters is that we won and continue in the running," said Estonia captain Kert Toobal after the game. "We played better that yesterday, but made some changes in our line-up and we have to thank the players that came from the bench and helped us make a difference."

Kazakhstan captain, Alexandr Stolnikov was quite pragmatic: "Unfortunately the match didn't go as we planned. We lost because we made errors in important times of the sets. Now we have to move forward since this defeat is already in the past."

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