Slovenia win epic match with Netherlands despite Nimir’s 31 points

Slovenia win epic match with Netherlands despite Nimir’s 31 points
Fecha de publicación: 
23 May 2024
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Two hours and 47 minutes – that’s how long it took Slovenia and the Netherlands to determine the winner in their Volleyball Nations League 2024 opener in Antalya on Wednesday. Despite an impressive 31-point match high from Dutch opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz, Slovenia squeezed out the victory in the end. In the second Pool 1 match of the day, Poland started the defence of their title with a straight-set victory in a remake of last year’s final against the United States.

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An epic five-set saga unfolded in the first Pool 1 match on Wednesday. After coming back from a set down twice in their duel with the Netherlands, deep into the overtime of the tie-breaker, Slovenia celebrated a 3-2 (31-33, 25-22, 20-25, 25-21, 27-25) victory over the Netherlands. The even battle did not bring about a substantial change in either team’s FIVB World Ranking score in the race for Olympic vacancies as only 0.18 points changed hands from the Dutch to the Slovenes.

In a first set that was also pushed deep into overtime, Nimir was on fire and contributed as many as 12 points towards a 33-31 close the Netherlands’ way, while his Slovenian counterpart Toncek Stern produced eight. After Slovenia levelled the match by winning the second set, Nimir had another solid contribution in the third set, when he hammered three aces to help his team step in front again. Slovenia once again came from behind to push the match to five. The tie-breaker offered a long and nail-biting battle. With Nimir leading the way with five points, the Dutch prevailed in attack, as well as blocking, but also committed more unforced errors than the Slovenians. With the help of aces from Jan Kozamernik and Tine Urnaut during the set, Slovenia not only fought their way out of the three-point lag they had at 10-7 the Netherlands’ way, but also survived the overtime saga, when both sides denied numerous opponent’s match points before a precision ace from Stern ended it all at 27-25.

Toncek Stern and Klemen Cebulj shared the top scorer honours on Slovenia’s side, each contributing 21 points to the victory. They had 17 kills each in attack, with three aces and a kill block from Stern and three kill blocks and an ace from Cebulj. Urnaut and Kozamernik added 16 and 13 points, respectively. Nimir’s match-high of 31 points included as many as five aces and a block. His teammates Maarten Van Garderen and Thijs Ter Horst also reached the double digits with 17 and 14 points, respectively.

“It was a really tough match. We hadn’t played together for a long time. We didn’t play any friendly matches, so it was not easy on the court with the other side playing very good volleyball,” Cebulj told Volleyball World after the match. “It made us nervous until the end of the game, but it was a very good game for us and very important for not losing any points.”

“We knew the match would be tough. We expected a really good team of the Netherlands. We had some ups and downs, but in the end we fought really well, we stayed together until the end and turned the match around,” Slovenia’s setter Gregor Ropret added.

“The game was really good. We had our chances, for sure, especially in the second set and also in the fifth set. We had a lot of chances to close the game, but this is top volleyball. We have to keep our heads up. We played a good game and we look forward to our next game against Türkiye tomorrow,” said Dutch setter Wessel Keemink.

The Netherlands and hosts Türkiye will meet at 20:00 local time (17:00 UTC) on Thursday. Slovenia’s next match is also on Thursday, at 14:00 (11:00) against Olympic champions France.

The top two teams in the World Ranking locked horns in the evening match in Antalya. Defending VNL champions Poland managed to widen the gap from the United States by another 16.66 points by hammering out a 3-0 (25-22, 25-15, 26-24) shutout of their opponents. Captain Aleksander Sliwka led the way with a match-high 13 points. Gabriel Garcia with 11 points and Jordan Ewert with 10 were USA’s best scorers of the match.

The VNL competition day will continue with the Pool 2 games in Rio de Janeiro. Germany and Italy will meet at 17:30 local time (20:30 UTC) and Iran and Serbia will take to the court at 21:00 (00:00).


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