ATANASIJEVIC EXTENDS SERBIA WINNING STREAK
Aix-en-Provence, France, June 9, 2018 – A scintillating performance from Aleksandar Atanasijevic helped Serbia claim their fifth consecutive win with a 3-0 victory over South Korea (25-17, 25-23, 25-19) in Saturday’s action at the 2018 FIVB Nations League.
The opposite spiker ran the show with 17 points to keep his side in contention for a berth in Lille. Nikola Mijailovic and Milan Katic also made contributions, with 12 and 10 points each.
Seung-Suk Kwak was the standout player for Korea, bagging a total of 9 points, but couldn’t prevent his side from losing an eigth straight game.
Having not lost to the Asians in four years, leading 8-1 in their head-to-head record, the Balkan side, widely considered one of the best at the moment, headed into the game as firm favourites, looking for their sixth overall win in the 2018 Nations League.
South Korea, still winless until now, started brightly, with the right amount of aggressivity and guile in offense to trouble the Serbs (6-8). Playing with plenty of freedom, the Asians try to remain on top off the back of Seung-Suk Kwak’s spikes but experience prevailed and Serbia clawed back into the game (14-13). The Europeans got further away, increasing their lead to six thanks to Aleksandar Atanasijevic, and seemed unstoppable as Nikola Mijailovic wrapped it up (25-17).
After the tables turned brutally in the first set, Serbia had the wind in their sails as they raced to an early 5-2 lead. But the plucky Koreans held their ground and managed to remain within reach of the Balkan side, putting pressure on their shoulders as Sung-Min Moon shined (14-13). In a much tighter set, that could have gone either way, the Koreans made too many errors, allowing the Serbs and Milan Katic to claim another set after a mega rally of huge entertainment value (25-23).
It was more of the same in the third set with South Korea starting well but Serbia remaining on top (10-8). A vicious spike from Atanasijevic increased the Serbian lead despite a courageous display by the Asian minnows (15-11). All credit to the Koreans whose valiant performance in defense made the Serbs work real heard for each point. But, in the end, it just wasn’t enough as Serbia ran away with it (25-19).
Serbia coach Nikola Grbic: “The tournament requires a lot of player changes because it’s long. You really need to give a chance to rest a few players. I’m satisfied with the approach and that was the key in tonight’s game because we never tried this line-up before. Even though I explained at the beginning that we would probably not do two games in a row with the same seven players, it’s not easy to do that on the court. So I’m satisfied even in the second set when we were chasing the result. We managed to stay calm and play well.
“The guys we are playing that usually have more experience and quality, they can play with the same base level regularly. However, the players that played tonight can obviously play again. I’m fortunate to have fourteen players that can go in and play a good match, which is what happens from time to time when they go in and change the course of the game. When two or three key players don’t play, the level goes down and you can lose to any team. Tomorrow, we’ll have to be aggressive and patient against France in order to win.”
Serbia player Aleksandar Atanasijevic: “We never know when we will be starting because we do a lot of player changes in this competition. It was an important match but we will play against a stronger team tomorrow. I hope we will play our best volleyball. Right now I don’t think we’re playing at that level yet but we’ll get there.”
Serbia player Milan Katic: “It was nice today. We were the favourites but only on paper. We needed to put our qualities on the floor and we did so from beginning to end. Now we need to prepare our minds for the game against France. They have big stars and we need to prepare our tactics, but we play almost every year against them.”
Serbia player Nikola Mijailovic: “It was a pleasure to play. Until this game, I did not have the opportunity to play so much. It’s always a big honour to play for your country. It’s a very important win for Serbia. It was the first time with these seven players on the court. It’s good for our psychology. Now we’ll try to optimize the game against France. I’ve been playing here for two years, I see a lot of familiar faces and it feels nice. I’m expecting a great match tomorrow, with two great teams. I hope we will win.”
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