With many of their fans cheering from the stands at the GelreDome in Arnhem, FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022 co-hosts Poland felt at home in the Netherlands as they defeated Croatia in the tournament’s opening match on Friday. Despite the opponents’ valiant effort to produce the first surprise of the tournament, the Poles battled it out for a 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-15) victory.

Pool B action continues on Saturday in Arnhem with Türkiye facing Thailand at 13:00 local time (11:00 GMT) and the Dominican Republic taking on Korea at 18:30 (16:30). The top four teams from each of the four round-robin pools will advance to the second pool phase of the tournament.

· Watch all FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The Polish team impressed mostly with the performance of their middle blockers. Agnieszka Korneluk, formerly known by her maiden name Kakolewska, delivered as many as seven of her team’s 13 stuff blocks as the game unfolded. She scored another seven in attack at a success rate of 58% to finish with 14 points. Kamila Witkowska added four kill blocks and an ace towards a 12-point match tally, while Polish outside hitter Olivia Rozanski and her Croatian counterpart Lucija Mlinar shared the top scorer honours with 16 points apiece.

Poland’s setter and captain Joanna Wolosz took the first serve of the World Championship and Korneluk scored the first point with a two-handed overpass kill. Korneluk and Rozanski’s combined blocking efforts gave Poland an early 5-2 lead, while opposite Magdalena Stysiak kept bombarding the opponents’ field from all sorts of positions on the court to keep her team in control. Setter Lea Deak delivered the first ace of the tournament to bring Croatia back to within three at 18-15, but it was an ace by Polish sub-in setter Katarzyna Wenerska that brought in set point at 25-19. Shortly after, a Croatian serve into the net closed the set at 25-19 Poland’s way.

Croatia struck back in the second set. With four points in a row, they broke away with an early 6-2 lead and never let it go. With middle Martina Samadan owning the net and despite the great effort by the two Polish middles, the Croatians managed to stay in front. Opposite and captain Samanta Fabris squeezed the ball between the net and the Polish blockers for a 24-21 set point, brilliantly converted by Deak with a monster block for 25-21.


Samanta Fabris in attack

Croatia recovered from a 5-2 Polish advantage in the third set as playmaker Deak leveled the score at 6-6, finding an empty spot at the back of the Polish half with a deep two-handed tip. An ace by middle Bozana Butigan for 11-7 and an overpass kill by Mlinar for 12-7 crowned a five-point Croatian run. Despite Korneluk’s blocking performance on the other side of the net, Croatia kept the pressure to widen the gap to eight points at 16-8, but then were unable to hold on to their lead. With Wenerska back behind the serving line and substitute opposite Monika Galkowska on fire in offence, the Poles scored seven in a row to regain control for a 22-20 advantage. Although the Croatians tied it back at 23-23, finally Korneluk delivered the winning break point with an overpass kill for 25-23.

Croatia started well in the fourth set too. An ace by Mlinar put them at a 4-1 lead, which, however, did not last long. Poland rallied back with five consecutive points, including a back-row hit by Stysiak to level it at 7-7 and an ace by Rozanski for 8-7 on the way to a 10-7 advantage. A direct serving point by Deak brought Croatia back to within one at 11-10, but the rest of the set was all about Poland. The co-hosts cruised on to open a wide lead, shaped at the final 25-15 with an off-the-net ace by middle Witkowska.


Joanna Wolosz in action

“Oh, my god! It was a tough game. Croatia fought until the end and I am so proud of my girls, because we also pushed and fought until the end in the third set. I think it made the difference and, in the fourth, it was much easier to play and deliver this victory,” said Wolosz after the game.

The World Championship opening day offers one more match on its programme. Starting at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT), hosts Netherlands entertain Kenya.