Marko Ivovic crushed Poland's defence on Thursday night
Kraków, Poland, July 14, 2016 – Marko Ivovic scored a match-high 18 points to help Serbia overcome hosts Poland 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18) in their opening match which sent them into semifinals.
Serbia are the only team in the Final Six which will not participate in the Olympic Games in Rio, so they were highly-motivated to win in their last tournament this season. The best performance was displayed by Ivovic, who knows Poland well, as he used to play for Asseco Resovia. On the Polish side Dawid Konarski was the top scorer again with 14 points.
Both teams met before in the World League this season, with Serbia winning 3-0 in Kaliningrad, Russia, on June 19. Overall it was the 19th encounter in the World League between the two with Serbia claiming their 14th victory.
After the thrilling tie-breaker yesterday Poland wanted to please their fans from the beginning of the match. They opened confidently, but at the first technical time-out Serbia took a one-point lead. Coach Nikola Grbic’s team used their freshness and built up a cushion of three points, but Mateusz Bieniek served two aces and reduced to the gap to one at 14-13. The 22-year-old outside hitter showed his great skills and helped Poland chase for a win. A double block from Nikola Jovovic and Marko Podrascanin proved impassable, resulting in Serbia still leading at 23-21, however Karol Kłos killed twice from the middle and gave Poland fans hope of a good start to the match. Serbia, however, reacted to the pressure with Nikola Jovovic successfully blocking Mateusz Mika to clinch the set 25-23.
Ivovic (five points in the first set) and his teammates stayed on the good path in the second set, serving four aces in a 10-8 early lead. The Polish Eagles did not look well against a Serbian side who were efficient and weel coordinated as the world No. 12 opened up a comfortable 20-16 lead. Coach Stephane Antiga’s substitutions did not help and Serbia paved their way to 2-0 lead in the game thanks to middle blocker Marko Podrascanin's massive hit from the middle to close out the set at 25-20.
In a repeat of Wednesday's opening match against France, world No. 2 Poland came back into the game in the third set and allowed Serbia to clinch only two points before the first TTO. Michał Kubiak took the responsibility on attack and increased the lead to an impressive seven points at 13-6. The same seven-point advantage at 20-13 made the fans stand up in their seats and their team did not disappoint, proving to be relentless on attack. Loud singing accompanied the last action as Rafał Buszek dinked at 25-18.
However the match wasn't going to be a repeat of Poland's comeback against France where they won in five sets. This time, Serbia started the fourth set the better earning four points in a row. They were unstoppable on serve (10 aces in the game) as Ivovic inparticular used this weapon very well. Poland looked like they had lost all the spirit, but Bieniek’s ace put some hope into his team’s heart as the deficit closed to five points at 8-3. Next on the 9-metre line was Bartosz Kurek who reduced the gap to three at 9-6 thanks to his brilliant serving. Captain Kubiak showed his leadership skills as he fearlessly pushed the ball through the Serbian block to make it a one-point ball game. Srecko Lisinac and Ivovic were ruthless for Serbia and they regained their impressive lead at 19-15. Poland still had their chances but Serbia were too strong. Podrascanin ended with an atomic spike in to the third meter zone at 25-18 to ensure that Poland's semifinal fate is now out of their own hands.