Bulgaria (BUL) vs. USA (USA) men - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #16052204

The number 20 team in the FIVB World Ranking Bulgaria stunned number two USA in a Volleyball Nations League 2024 game in Antalya on Saturday evening. The four-set victory gave the southern Europeans a nice boost of 16.20 points towards the ranking and they climbed two spots up to number 20. Decreasing their score by the same amount of points, the Americans gave up their second position to Italy and dropped to number three.

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In a battle between two young squads, Bulgarian opposite Dimitar Dimitrov hammered out 22 points towards his team’s 3-1 (25-21, 25-20, 21-25, 25-21) win, their first victory in this edition of the VNL. His tally included one ace and one kill block. Outside hitters Asparuh Asparuhov and Georgi Tatarov added 15 and 14 points, respectively, the former shining with four aces. The United States, on the other hand, managed to win their first set of the season. They were led by opposite Jake Hanes with a match-high 24 points. Outside hitter Jordan Ewert added 13 points. Middle blocker Matthew Knigge finished with 11, including three aces.

Bulgaria shot up to 11th place in the current standings with a 1-2 win-loss record and 3 points, while USA are bottom of the table on 0-3.

With Dimitrov spearheading the Bulgarian offence in the first set and Tatarov leading the way in the second, Bulgaria clearly dominated on the court to edge ahead with a 2-0 lead after 25-21 and 25-20. After 10-10 in the third set, the Americans took control of the scoreboard and never looked back. Hanes had an excellent set on all scoring counts, fuelling his team to a 25-21 win. Dimitrov was back on fire again in set four, leading his team with eight points. However, in the end it was Asparuhov who brought in match point with two powerful aces in a row, and Tatarov converted it with a kill for 25-21.

Bulgaria (BUL) vs. USA (USA) men - Pool 1 - Preliminary Phase #16052196

Dimitar Dimitrov in action

“We have to hold it down a little bit later in the sets. Right now we play really well in the beginning and towards the end is when we let go of some opportunities. I think that comes with experience and some chemistry. We are a new group. We just started playing together not so long ago. Hopefully, going into the next match, we can speed that process up and really handle those late points,” American setter Joshua Tuaniga told Volleyball World after the match. “We are working hard. We’ve got a really hard-working group here. I think in the future, once we get our connection and our chemistry going, we are going to be a dangerous group.”

“We are very happy that we won the game. We learned that we can do the things we practice on and I hope we continue doing them,” commented Georgi Tatarov. “For me, it’s a dream come true to play for the senior national team and I am so happy that I play with these young guys, most of whom are my age.”

In their last matches of the week on Sunday, USA will take on Türkiye at 17:00 local time (14:00 UTC) and Bulgaria will challenge the Netherlands at 20:00 (17:00).

Right after USA’s loss to France on Friday, Poland produced a 3-0 (30-28, 25-23, 25-18) shutout of the Netherlands, which cost the Dutch only 1.42 points from their World Ranking score and did not cause any shakeups. Outside hitter and captain Aleksander Sliwka led the winners with 16 points, while Netherlands’ opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz delivered the match high of 22 points. The defending champions improved to a 3-0 win-loss record and 9 points. The Netherlands dropped to 1-2 and 3.

Saturday’s Pool 1 programme started with Slovenia’s 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 21-25, 15-10) victory over Canada, which brought the winners some 0.77 points towards the World Ranking. Slovenia were led by opposite Toncek Stern with 23 points, while Canada’s Stephen Maar was the best scorer of the match with 27 points. Slovenia also extended their unbeaten run to three wins in three matches and stand on a total of 7 points. Canada are on 2-2 and 7.

Then, France managed a 3-1 (25-27, 25-23, 25-16, 25-14) victory over hosts Türkiye leaving the opponents winless in the first three matches of their VNL debut. Opposite Jean Patry led the winners with a match-high 19 points, including four serving aces. The reigning Olympic champions finished the first competition week on 3-1 and 9.

Saturday’s VNL Pool 2 action in Rio de Janeiro has already started with a game between Japan and Italy. Argentina will then take on Germany at 17:30 local time (20:30 UTC), before Cuba and Iran hit the court at 21:00 (00:00).

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