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Azerbaijan overcome pressure to rally to comprehensive victory over Hungary

2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Women
Baku, Azerbaijan, September 22, 2017. The hosts from Azerbaijan had a little bit of a rusty start to their matchup with Hungary as they obviously felt the pressure resulting from the home debut but they eventually got rid of it – and they did so in style!

After coming from behind in the opening set, they rallied to a comprehensive 3-0 victory (25-23, 25-14, 25-16) over Hungary to get proceedings underway in Pool A of the 2017 women’s EuroVolley. They provided something to cheer about not only to a raucous home crowd, but also to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who paid a visit to the National Gymnastics Arena on the opening day of the historic tournament co-hosted by Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Hungary vs. Azerbaijan 0-3 (23-25, 14-25, 16-25)

After a furious start by the home side, who were obviously extra motivated to please the 4,500+ crowd in attendance at the National Gymnastics Arena, Hungary rapidly found their rhythm to lead the way almost from the beginning to the end of the opening set. Azerbaijan’s reception looked way too shaky for the hosts to be able to develop their game and this resulted in a five-point advantage for the visitors at the second technical time-out. However, Azerbaijan suddenly woke up and stormed back to 18-19 – after finally getting rid of the pressure they inevitably felt while making their debut at a historic #EuroVolleyW on home soil. The hosts eventually levelled the score at 22-all, as the noise inside the hall was getting louder and louder. A crosscourt by Polina Rahimova flipped the charts around and Azerbaijan crowned their comeback with success as they cashed their second set ball (25-23).

After overcoming their initial troubles, Azerbaijan found their game and much to the delight of their State President, Mr Ilham Aliyev, who was closely watching the match from the stands, they put on a real show in the second set. Rahimova looked almost unstoppable and Hungary could not do much to stand the physical prowess of their opponents despite the loud cheers coming from a small group of Hungarian fans in attendance. Azerbaijan’s success in the second set was a pure formality – and it eventually turned into reality at 25-14 following another kill by Rahimova.

The early stages of the third set were far less one-sided with Azerbaijan leading by one point only at the first technical time-out. However, slowly but surely Azerbaijan opened a comfortable gap (17-12) and the home team’s show continued until Kseniya Poznyak sealed a 25-16 win passionately celebrated by a jubilant home crowd and by President Aliyev as well.

Quotes

Rita Bokorne Liliom, team captain of Hungary: “The first set was what we wanted to achieve, to have this kind of focus for the whole game, but at 16-11 we started to lose concentration and thinking that this may not be the right position for us. From that moment on, we wanted to come back, but they were always a step or two steps ahead of us. As for the next match against Poland, we are going to try our best; we will not put our heads down but keep playing.”

Alberto Salomoni, head coach of Hungary: “We started very well and made it very difficult for Azerbaijan. We had a good strategy and the girls did great in executing that strategy from the very start. Unfortunately, we lost that first set. If we had won it, this would have completely changed the game. After we lost the first set, Azerbaijan were calmer and with the weapons they have like Rahimova and Mammadova they put us in a difficult situation. I would not say we started to play bad – Azerbaijan started to play better. We are the underdog also in the next match and we will do just the same – make it difficult for the opponent and take the chance when we have such a chance.”

Kseniya Poznyak, player of Azerbaijan: “The first set was very difficult for us. We could not find our rhythm and made many mistakes. Towards the end of set, however, Shafagat Habibova had a good run from the service line and we eventually changed the course of the game. We are now celebrating but already thinking about our second match in the pool against Poland. We must play better than we did today and we will be trying to do so.”

Famil Aghayev, assistant coach of Azerbaijan: “Our start was a rusty one, because the players have been waiting for the entire summer for the European Championship to come. It was not a terrific game for us but we fought for every point. Now we are happy but we need to do better in the next matches.”