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Six World Championship entrants emerge from Europe

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 28, 2017 - France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Russia and Finland all claimed tickets to the 2018 FIVB Men's World Championship Sunday night, as Round 2 of the European qualifiers wound down with some amazing matches across the continent. Serbia had already claimed the first of the six available direct tickets on Saturday, with a day to spare in the competition.

The qualified teams join hosts Italy and Bulgaria and defending champions Poland in the 2018 World Championship, as another 16 spots remain open for teams from across the globe.

The six second-ranked teams of each pool, Germany, Slovakia, Belgium, Estonia, Belarus and Spain continue to Round 3 of the continental qualifiers for one more ticket to the World Championship. Round 3 will be a single round-robin pool to be held 11-16 July.

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France make 6th straight Worlds
Reigning European champions France swept Germany 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-20) before some 4,300 ecstatic fans in Lyon to qualify directly to the World Championship for the sixth time running.

With Stephen Boyer on fire, scoring 20 points including four blocks and two aces, France pressed from the service line (6 aces to 1) and destroyed the Germans with their blocking (15 stuffs to 5). Christian Fromm struggled to keep Germany alive, scoring 19 points, getting 18 kills from 34 swings and hugely contributing in reception, but it was not to be.

Germany, bronze medallists in the World Championship last time around, had to settle for another try in Round 3 of the European qualifiers.

Azerbaijan beat Iceland 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-20) and Turkey outclassed Ukraine 3-0 (25-16, 25-19 25-20) in the other matches of the day in Lyon.

The Netherlands end 16-year drought
Needing just two sets to qualify directly for Italy/Bulgaria, pool hosts The Netherlands found themselves with their back against the wall in Apeldoorn, as Slovakia (who could have qualified with a clear win for three points) took a 2-1 lead after three incredibly tight sets.

The Netherlands, silver medallists in 1994 in Piraeus, return to the World Championship in 2018 after a 16-year absence, their last presence being in 2002 in Argentina where they finished 9th.


The Netherlands celebrate return to the World Championship after sweeping their pool in Apeldoorn.

Slovakia came back from 23-21 in the first to lead 23-24 and finished it after three set points, but the hosts rebounded to tie the score after leading 24-22 and getting levelled 24-24.

But the when the going got tough the Dutch prevailed with excellent control in reception and subsequently high kill rate in the fourth to force a tie-break - by when it was all over.

Nimir Abdel-Aziz who came on off the bench in the fourth set was the driving force in attack for The Netherlands at the close of the game, though Jasper Dieffenbach and Kay Van Dijk shared top scoring honours with 17 points each - the former with eight of his team's 19 stuffs.

Matej Patak scored 26 points and Peter Mlynarcik another 22 for Slovakia who have to be consoled with a berth in Round 3 of the European qualifiers.

Moldova defeated Austria 3-1 (22-25, 31-29, 25-22, 26-24) and Greece swept Luxembourg 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-21) in the other matches at Apeldoorn.

Slovenia prolong their dream with direct ticket
Slovenia will make their debut in the FIVB World Championship in 2018, after beating Belgium 3-1 (28-30, 26-24, 27-25, 25-20) at home in Ljubljana to clinch a direct ticket to Italy/Bulgaria as they continue to live the dream that began with the European Championship silver medal in 2015 and continued with their promotion to Group 2 of the FIVB World League last year.

That leaves Belgium to fight it out in the 3rd Round of the European qualifiers.

Though Slovenia led for the best part of the first set, Belgium were first to reach set point. Still it took six unsuccessful attempts before they got the job done for a 1-0 lead.

Slovenia, however, replied to take the next two with an ever so slight lead and then totally dominated the fourth, leading by as many as seven points at one point.


Players and fans celebrate in Ljubljana as Slovenia qualifies for the first time in their history to the World Championship.

Mitja Gasparini with 24, and Tine Urnaut and Klemen Cebulj with 18 each led Slovenia, who piled on the pressure from the service line with eight aces to none. Belgium had 15 points from Gert Van Walle and 14 each from Sam Deroo and Tomas Rousseaux.

Israel beat Georgia 3-0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-19) and Portugal edged Latvia 3-1 (26-24, 23-25, 26-24, 25-17) in the other matches of the closing day at Ljubljana.

Russia secure 19th World Championship appearance
London 2012 Olympic champions Russia were taken by surprise in the first set by the pool hosts in Tallinn, but quickly bounced back to take the next three and beat up-and-coming Estonia 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-19) and take the ticket from Pool D.

It will be Russia's (including as Soviet Union) 19th appearance in the FIVB World Championships - the only team to be present in every single edition of the competition.


Russia's triple block of Dmitry Kovalev, Ilia Vlasov and Egor Kliuka stops Estonia's Oliver Venno in Tallinn.

Coach Sergey Shlyapnikov brought on Dmitry Kovalev and Dmitri Volkov off the bench during the second set to help turn the tide, as maxim Mikhailov provided the firing power with 19 points and 15/23 kills for 63%.

Estonia still get a shot at qualifying to Italy/Bulgaria through the 3rd Round of the European qualifiers.

In other matches in Tallinn on Sunday, Romania beat Hungary 3-0 (25-19, 26-24, 27-25) and Montenegro shut out newcomers Kosovo 3-0 (25-15, 25-9, 25-15).

Serbia celebrate Worlds ticket with pressureless win
Serbia, World Championship silver medallists 1998 and bronze medallists in 2010, had already secured their presence in the 2018 edition as of Saturday, with a day to spare. They finished a clean sweep of the Zagreb pool without dropping a single set after beating hosts Croatia 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 25-21) on Sunday.

Last year's FIVB World League MVP Marko Ivovic and 2017 European Champions League Best Opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic scored 11 points each for Serbia, as coach Nikola Grbic gave time on court to most of his players.

Meanwhile, Belarus clinched second place in the Zagreb pool, as Pavel Kuklinski scored 16 points to lead his side to a 3-1 (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-23) win over Denmark that secured a spot in Round 3 of the European qualifiers.

Switzerland returned to their winning ways with a 3-2 (24-26, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10) win over winless Norway in the other match of the day in Zagreb.

Finland sweep pool for second straight Worlds appearance
Finland beat hosts Czech Republic in the deciding match at Karlovy Vary to claim the direct ticket to the 2018 FIVB World Championship. It will be Finland's second straight World Championship, after they took the world by storm last time around with a 9th place finish in 2014.


Finland travelling fans rejoice in Karlovy Vary as their team gest ticket to World Championship.

Finland totally outplayed the Czech Republic across the board, with Tommi Siirla scoring 18 points with 7/10 kills and 7 stuffs.

The result meant Spain get a second chance in Round 3, after their 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-12) win over Northern Ireland for a 4-1 record and second place in the pool.

Sweden beat Cyprus 3-2 (19-25, 25-27, 27-25, 25-21, 15-13) in the other match of the closing day at Karlovy Vary.

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