Spain killed off Great Britain’s slim hopes of reaching the Final Four of the CEV European League with a clinical display at Ponds Forge, Sheffield.
Only in the final set did GB offer some resistance as they finally stretched Spain but it was to no avail. GB again missed injured pair Mark Plotyczer and Mark McGivern and Spain took full advantage. Spain started strongly with Iban Perez showing his hitting power and blocking ability as they sped to a 3-0 lead. Marlon Palharini and Manuel Sevillano both had success with backcourt attacks and it was Palharini, with a spike through position four, that took them to the technical timeout 8-4 ahead. Nathan Bennett produced a big block for GB but it was Spain who held the upper-hand to lead 11-5 with Perez heaping pressure on the GB defence.
GB were finding some success with Andy Benson through the middle but it did not disrupt the Spanish charge with Palharini finding success against the block through position four. A float serve from Spanish captain Julian Garcia-Torres put Spain 16-8 in front going into the second technical timeout. Palharini found the floor with another terrific hit to extend the Spanish lead to ten points 18-8 but, even when GB claimed a point back, Palharini delivered another wounding spike through four. GB coach Harry Brokking tried to disrupt the procession by bringing on Kieran O’Malley and Dami Bakare but Spain moved 21-10 in front when Andy Pink served into the net. Bennett produced another solid block on Palharini at 10-23 but it was not enough to change the momentum. Javier Subiela squandered one set point with a serving error but Perez put away the set 25-12 with a hit off the block.
GB looked more together in the second set and a fine block from Pink put them briefly ahead 2-1 but Spain refused to let them build on this in the early part of the set. Pink was blocked by Garcia-Torres and when Bennett was snuffed out at the net by Subiela, it put Spain 8-6 ahead at the first technical timeout. When Perez wiped another spike off the block to make put his team 13-7 ahead, it was a signal for coach Brokking to call a timeout. The Spanish pressure was relentless – Garcia-Torres put away another point through the middle but Joel Miller did offer some brief resistance for GB with a crosscourt hit through position four. But a service error from Pipes gave Spain an eight-point lead at the second technical timeout, 16-8. Pipes made a great pick-up from Palharini to keep a rally alive but the Spanish hitter had the final say as he sent the killer blow through the middle. GB hit back with Jason Haldane finding the floor with a crosscourt hit and then Dami Bakare shoing hius blocking ability. But any momentum quickly evaporated when Subiela came up with an unstoppable hit through the middle. GB cut the lead to 15-21 but again Subiela rose through the middle to score before Palharini produced another outstanding shot to take it to 23-16 and within sight of the set. Miller was blocked by Garcia-Torres to bring up set point and, after Benson had saved one set point, it was Garcia-Torres who closed out the set 25-17.
Spain were in no mood to let it slip. They moved to a 4-0 lead in the third set, instigating a GB timeout, and there was a response from Miller, whose crosscourt spike found the corner of the court. Nathan French produced a thunderous serve to keep GB in touch 5-7 but it was Spain who led 8-5 at the technical timeout when Miller’s attack through four was blocked by Guillermo Hernan. GB thought they had levelled the score when Sevillano’s spike was given as out but the referee over-ruled his line-judge. But it was 9-9 when Garcia-Torres’s crosscourt hit was inches wide but Spain stretched away again to 13-9 when Benson’s touch through the middle was into the net but he made up for it on the next point on the short set from O’Malley. Sevillano served into the net but a tip over the block from Garcia-Torres and strength at the net from Perez gave Spain a 16-11 lead at the timeout. But GB refused to lie down. Some big serving from Dami Bakare had Spain in trouble as the home team won the next four points to force a timeout from Julio Velasco. GB were level again at 17-17 after French produced an ace from the service-line but his next serve was marginally long. Spain won a controversial point to go 19-17 ahead after GB insisted Palharini’s spike had not struck the floor but the referee ruled otherwise.
GB kept trading points deep in the set and closed to 21-22 and 22-23 but Perez’s hit form position two brought up match point and when French was wide with a crosscourt hit from four, it was complete 25-22.
Coach Velasco stated: “It was difficult for GB when they didn’t have some important players for these kind of matches. We started very strongly to improve our play of yesterday and we need to play as well as possible to arrive at the Final Four, playing at home.”
Captain Garcia-Torres added: “We spoke in the morning that we needed to play like a team to give us confidence for the Final Four. We began very positively and only in the third set did GB match us.”
GB coach Brokking admitted: “I can only apologise that we didn’t give them a harder time on court which obviously they wanted to have before the Final Four.”
“I can see the fatigue in my team. It’s a long summer and I think we travel for longer than any team that plays in the World League. You can be 12-14 hours on the road and if you do that most weekends, then it’s normal that fatigue comes into the team.”
Captain Pipes said: “It was a poor performance from ourselves. There was a bit of fight in the third set but overall it was poor and a lack-lustre weekend for us. That adds to the disappointment of the last weekend but we have to bounce back. I’m looking forward to getting back to training this week and getting punished by the coach!”