Montreux, Switzerland, June 3, 2016 - Defending-champions Turkey clung onto second place in Pool A by their fingernails, progressing to the knockout phase alongside China after Belgium failed to beat Brazil. Netherlands reigned supreme over Serbia in a tense four set battle to progress from Pool B along with Thailand, who went through safely after hammering Switzerland.
Belgium went into their final game two points behind Turkey with an inferior set difference, meaning only three points would do for them to go through. Brazil-already out- were the team standing in their way. Qualification in their grasp, Belgium failed to step up and capitulated on the big occasion, with Paula Borgo’s superb spiking and Gabriela de Souza’s intelligent attacking play cutting them apart in a relentless 3:0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-22) mauling. Defeat broke Belgian hearts but Turkey, many of their coaches watching on the side-lines, could thank their lucky stars. The result saw the Brazilians finish third in their group, and they will play out a classification fixture against Switzerland on Saturday as consolation.
The stage was then set for Thailand, who have amassed a wealth of support and won over many doubters since arriving in Montreux. Their previous wins had been tight affairs, and they sent their fans home happy once again in an exhibition of their quality, pummelling Switzerland 3:0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-18), their latest triumph showing that they are just as able to win with style and swagger as they are through sheer grit and determination. Skipper and Middle Blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow was the master key in the Thai ranks, the veteran showing composure, poise and leadership on court to clock up 12 points and guide her teammates to victory in competitive rallies with the Swiss, to the thrill of the sell-out 2340 crowd. Thailand march on into the semi-finals to face Turkey, who will know they have a mammoth task ahead if they are to get the better of them.
That laid out the red carpet for the Dutch and Serbia to rub shoulders in a winner-takes-all encounter for the final qualification place in Pool B. Coaches Gil Ferrer Cutino and Giovanni Guidetti demanded a reaction after the Netherlands’ stunning collapse against the Thais on Thursday night, and their stern words certainly had the desired effect judging on their performance just 24 hours later. Wing Spiker Celeste Plak, the standout performer in Thursday’s loss, came up with the goods again with 27 points and 3 blocks to help the “Oranje” into a two set lead. They’d do it the hard way though, Sanja Malagurski’s 23 points finding the chink in the Netherlands armour and condemning them to the trial of a fourth set. Unable to stomach throwing away another lead, the “Oranje” were able to hold their nerve in a heart-stopping final set, scraping past Serbia 26-24 to seal a 3:1 win (25-18, 25-23, 22-25, 26-24), confirming their place in the semi-finals at last. World Cup gold medallists China await them; Serbia meanwhile will attempt to salvage some pride against Belgium.
As the crowd departed and the arena fell silent, so ended another emotional day at the 2016 Montreux Volley Masters. But on Friday’s thrilling showing, there is a sense that the prevailing teams are beginning to up the quality of their game even further. With Saturday’s semi-finalists now decided, fans can expect another day of intense, nail-biting action as the volleyball carnival continues.