Cuba or Türkiye? Belgium or Croatia? Two of these national teams will earn the right to compete in the 2023 Volleyball Nations League and they will be known on Sunday, the last day of the Volleyball Challenger Cup, which has the men playing in Seoul, Korea, and the women battling in Zadar, Croatia.
Cuba vs. Türkiye and Belgium vs. Croatia in Volleyball Challenger Cup finals
The winners of these matches will compete in the Volleyball Nations League in 2023
Published 08:30, 30 Jul 2022
The men’s Volleyball Challenger Cup winners will be the first to be known as Cubans and Turkish are set to meet in the gold medal match in Seoul at 15.30 local time (6.30 GMT). The all-European women’s final between Belgium and hosts Croatia in Zadar is set to start at 20.00 local time (18.00 GMT).
The last day of the Volleyball Challenger Cup will also feature the men’s bronze medal match between the Czech Republic and Korea at 12.00 local time (3.00 GMT), in Seoul, and the third-place match for the women, reuniting Colombia and Puerto Rico at 17.00 local time (15.00 GMT), in Zadar.
On Saturday, Cuba used their superior blocking ability (16 points to five) to dominate the Czech Republic to a straight-set (25-22, 25-18, 25-18) victory in the semifinals. Miguel Angel Castro and Jesus Herrera led the Cuban offence again with the Most Valuable Player of last year’s FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship producing 17 points (13 kills, three blocks, one ace) and the left-handed opposite adding another 14 (12 kills, two blocks).
“We were a little anxious in the first set, but after we settled, we played a good match,” Lopez commented. “I think we managed to serve, block and hit at a very high level and I believe that remaining effective on those skills will be one of the keys for us to play well in the final as well.”
The second men’s semifinal also ended in three sets (26-24, 25-21, 25-22), with Türkiye sweeping Korea in front of their home fans. Opposite Adis Lagumdzija was the main Turkish scorer with 17 points (12 kills, three blocks, two aces), while Korean opposite Subong Heo led all scorers with 23 (21 kills, one block, one ace).
“It was really difficult to play Korea on their home court,” outside hitter Burak Gungor said. “We had to fight until the last point and I think that’s one of the reasons we won. The final is certainly going to be just as difficult and I believe that serving well and having a good start to the match will be very important. We came here to qualify for the VNL and we’ll give everything we have to make it happen.”
In the women’s semifinals, Belgium benefited from a stellar performance from Britt Herbots to move one step closer to returning to the VNL after taking part in this year’s edition of the event. With 34 points (31 kills, three aces) from their star outside hitter, the Europeans came back from a first-set loss to Colombia to win 3-1 (21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-16) and secure their spot in the gold medal match.
“We had to fight a lot against a very good team,” middle blocker Nathalie Lemmens said. “We know we have to fight in every match, that’s a lesson we learned in the VNL. We were a little surprised by how good Colombia were. We did some things well, but there are some others we need to improve for the final.”
In the other semifinal, Croatia also needed four sets (26-24, 25-17, 23-25, 25-17) to defeat Puerto Rico and continue their march to the final. The Europeans, who had 19 blocks against nine for the Caribbeans, had in team captain Samanta Fabris their main scorer as the opposite tallied 24 points (22 kills, one block, one ace).
“Winning this match means a lot for us,” said middle blocker Bozana Butigan, who scored 18 points, eight of which were in blocks. “I think we played a really good match. We had some down moments in the third set but we managed to come back strong and win the match. Winning the Volleyball Challenger Cup and qualifying for the VNL is our main goal for the season and to do it here, in front of our home fans, would be amazing. I know we can do it and we’ll go for it.”