SLOVENIA knocked the Netherlands out of playoff contention with a 25-20, 32-30, 25-22 victory in the final day of the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) men’s tournament Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Tine Urnaut and Klemen Cebulj conspired anew for the Slovenians in the big win to end their Philippine leg campaign and head into the VNL finals from July 19 to 24 in Poland on a high note.
Urnaut unloaded 14 points on 12 attacks and two aces while Cebulj had four blocks and eight hits and an ace for 13 points as Slovenia finished in seventh place with an 8-4 won-lost record.
Slovenia went 2-2 in the final and crucial preliminary leg here, bowing to Poland and Italy before notching a much-needed victory over China.
Ranged against the Netherlands in a must-win duel to qualify to the finals, the world No. 8 Slovenia just would not be denied behind a game-changing second-set escape act that set the tone in the sweep.
Now, Slovenia sets its prize on the ultimate prize.
“It’s an important moment for us. It’s an important game so we’re happy to show what we expect from each other. We played as a team and we’d like to keep it moving forward,” said Cebulj, who sparked Slovenia’s comeback in the second set.
Slovenia controlled the opening salvo en route to a 25-20 win but the Netherlands, with its back against the wall, refused to go down without a fight.
Top spiker Nimir Abdel-Aziz broke out of his slump in anchoring the Dutch spikers’ answer in the second set as his fiery hit pushed them to set point at 24-23 for a potential 1-1 slate.
But Cebulj had other things in mind, drilling a hammer in the ensuing play to force a deuce and pave the way for an extended duel.
Slovenia still trailed at 29-30 in the marathon before a 3-0 run highlighted Alen Pajenk’s block on Abdel-Aziz sealed a 32-30 win that just snowballed to the team’s breakaway in the clinching third set.
Abdel-Aziz, after struggling in losses against Japan and Brazil, fired 22 points as the only bright spot for the Dutchmen, whose 1-3 campaign in the Philippine leg doomed its final hopes.
The Netherlands finished at 5-7 in ninth place, allowing reigning champion France (5-6) and Serbia (6-6) to instead slug it out for the last and eight final slot pending the last elimination games on Monday in California. (ai/mnm)