Blues 1-3 National Law Academy of Ukraine (15-25, 17-25, 26-24, 10-25)
Athens, Greece, 04/07/2002
We played our second match against Ukraine today - due to the withdrawal of the Yugoslav representative, we are the only two teams in our pool.
We had a good training session this morning where we specifically practised reception, particularly against hard spin services, and also did some work on running three-man blocks as a standard tactic. The hall for today's game was much bigger, and we even had some spectators... unfortunately this didn't seem to motivate the team, who came out very flat. Some dire service and hitting errors meant we dropped game one to 15, far from bad but much less than we would have hoped.
Game two saw some improvement, but Ukraine's opposite still took a run of five points off us with his jump serve. Even with four guys passing with instructions just to pop it up as if it were a spike (it's hard enough), he could still ace us. Ukraine ran a couple of subs and took the set to 17.
Game three could well be the highlight of our tournament, however.
Although down by three at both technical time-outs, Cambridge fought back superbly, even overcoming a couple of terrible calls by the up-ref. Amazingly, the matches don't have line judges - and this particular ref called a Ken Kato jump serve ace as being a foot fault, when he was well behind the line. Having saved a match point, some heroic defence from Denis Zuev forced a Ukraine hitting error to give us set point. On the next play, Ukraine set their one-tempo - and their 6'9" middle blocker was stuffed straight down by Great Britain's own 5'11" Jean Jacquet.
The team celebrated, quite rightly, as if they'd won the tournament.
Unfortunately the Ukraine coach, who was visibly furious at the loss of a set, clearly used the interval to threaten his players with years of hard labour should they do it again. They responded, and took a big early lead, at which point I ran the bench to give them a go.
A very successful day, then, and we had our photos taken with the Ukraine boys afterwards just to prove how big they were (link). The Ukraine coach congratulated me after the game, which was a nice touch. We bought them a round of beers at dinner afterwards... which were gladly accepted but not drunk. Ukraine are here to win.
Report by Richard White
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