Blues 0-3 Open University of Israel (17-25, 14-25, 22-25)
Athens, Greece, 05/07/2002
Today's match wasn't until the evening, which was probably just as well since most of the guys were nowhere to be seen at breakfast! This coach began to regret not imposing any sort of curfew or limitation on his team's social activities. Our opponents were Israel, in the first 5th-8th seeding match.
On the bus to the Greece/Cyprus game (I decided to scout our opponents for the final match), I sat next to the coach of the Croatian men. Although I was prepared to use my Croatian on him, he of course spoke perfect English. He was very surprised by the lack of support for and emphasis on physical education in English universities - in Zagreb at least two sessions per week are compulsory for all students, irrespective of what course they are following.
In the match preceding our game, Cyprus showed themselves to be a decent side, with three strong hitters, and were only pipped 3-2 by Greece. The Israel team looked a very mixed bunch in warm-ups; being the Open University side, they presumably have the same potential as the British equivalent. Hence one of their players looked to be in his mid-forties, although he offset this by standing 6'8".
The match was a huge disappointment. Israel were a decent enough team, but beatable. Unusually for modern volleyball, they base their strategy around the middle of the net. Their two passers (who were excellent) came in for a lot of combinations and used inside-out approaches, in almost a true swing hitter system. The Israeli setter was truly outstanding and made a couple of plays that will stick in my mind for a long time. One came with a ball that looked as though it was overpassed; he was back-row, but jumped and set the ball one-handed as a reverse slide to his middle at the antenna at 2. The ball was crushed with our blockers nowhere.
Unfortunately Cambridge played the worst match I've seen us play since probably the start of the season. We knew we had to serve tough, and when we did so Israel struggled - the guys are running 3-man blocks very efficiently now and it works well. But the serving was generally poor, whereas Israel consistently put over tough spin serves and put big blocks up well themselves.
The first two sets were lost to 17 and 17, game three looked to be going the same way until at match point down, we won 6 points in a row before Israel finally finished us off. Even Pierre Briguet-Lamarre coming on as sub and yelling at his team to 'do it for the Norwegian girls!' (who were in the stands) couldn't motivate them.
One final point; the Israelis were a very nice bunch, and surpassed themselves by giving us not only a pennant, but also a t-shirt each. The same could not be said of their two security guards, who prowled the hall with walkie-talkies and concealed weapons throughout the game.
Report by Richard White
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