Turin, Italy, September 27, 2018 - All Serbia needed was one set against Poland to advance to Saturday's semifinals of the 2018 FIVB Men's World Championship. And they blew one set point in the first and two in the second, as defending champions Poland swept the Balkan side 3-0 (28-26, 28-26, 25-22) in a dramatic and intense game at the Pala Alpitour here.
Regardless, Serbia are still through to the semifinals on the basis of points collected today.
The Balkan side join USA and Brazil who had earlier in the day qualified from the other 3rd Round pool, after the North Americans shut out Russia.
The last remaining ticket to the semifinals will be decided on Friday, when Italy host Poland at 21:15 local time (19:15 GMT).
But the hosts can only qualify if they beat Poland in straight sets and concede 60 points or less.
Polish players celebrate wildly after win over Serbia that sees them with one foot in the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB World Championship.
As Serbia and Poland entered the Pala Alpitour, the Italian crowd had no doubt about which side to support: Serbia, paradoxally, as the team that could even the odds of Group J by reserving the Polish the same treatment Italy suffered in their hands the night before.
Nikola Grbic's men only needed to win one set to qualify for the semifinals, or to score more than 53 points in 3 sets, while Vital Heynen's band was eager to win with a wide score in order to put the Italians in an uncomfortable position.
As the hottest team in the Final Six, Serbia tried to confirm their two technical skills - powerful serve and restless defense - letting Uros Kovacevic lead the team with his magic left hand (14 points, 48% attack): the heist was disappointing, though, as Aleksandar Atanasijevic & co. balanced 4 aces with 21 faults and conceded 58% of attacking efficiency to the Poles.
On the other side Poland answered by unleashing Bartosz Kurek from zone 2 (15 points, 68% attack) and following the emotional intensity of captain Michal Kubiak: a monster block on Marko Ivovic (4 total at the end) followed by an ace on the line allowed Poland to reject Serbia's only set ball in the first set and lead to a thrilling finale where the Poles prevailed 28-26.
The second set was not different, with Serbia ahead and able to earn their first set ball before Poland fought back with Artur Szalpuk (25-25). An ace by Kurek provided the first set ball (26-25) and Kubiak transformed the second (28-26).
At that point of the match Serbia no longer needed to win a set in order to qualify, but just two points: Italy had only scored 53 in Wednesday's defeat, and when Ivovic scored the 2-2 point in the third set, coach Grbic decided to give space to the players available on the bench: Petar Krsmanovic for Marko Podrascanin and Ivan Kostic for Nikola Jovovic.
The third set was enjoyable, but saw Poland prevail thanks to stronger motivation: Mariusz Bieniek provided a big contribution from the bench (9 points and 4 blocks in the last fraction).
Now Poland needs to win a set or to lose three by scoring an average of more than 20 points, and tournament host Italy have a battle on their hands.
Quick links - Volleyball:
FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Italy-Bulgaria 2018
Results and ranking