The twins have their family supporting them from the stands in Durango

Slovakia and Argentina entered the final match of the Pool D of the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Girls’ U18 World Championship on Friday already guaranteed in the Round of 16. The duel between the temams would, however, decide which of them would finish third in the pool and the Europeans overcame a first-set upset to win 3-1, secure their second victory and get the better position ahead of the playoffs.

Earlier in the afternoon, Brazil, already guaranteed in second, won for a third time at the Auditorio del Pueblo, this time in straight sets, against Bulgaria.

The four Pool D teams will play teams from the Pool C in the Round of 16. First-placed Russia face Puerto Rico, second-placed Brazil clash with Thailand, third-placed Slovakia meet Romania and fourth-placed Argentina play defending champions the United States. Bulgaria go to the playoffs 17-20.

Downed in a close first set, the Slovakians came back stronger after it to fight for the match and defeat Argentina 3-1. The team coached by Marek Malicky succeeded in forcing Argentinean errors as the difference in that area of the game (44-24) was enough to make up for the South American’s most effective offense (47-38). The Slovakians also had an 8-2 advantage in aces.

Opposite Radka Haskova came off the bench to be the match’s top scorer with 13 points (ten kills, one block, two aces). Outside hitters Deana Valentova and Alexandra Fricova contributed to the Slovakian offense with 11 and nine points respectively. Outside hitter Nicole Perez produced 13 points (12 kills, one block) for Argentina.

We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but that we needed to try as hard we could to win this match and get the points and we’re really happy that we did that,” Fricova, who’s Slovakia’s captain, said. “We started a little nervous again, but as the match went on, we calmed down and played better. The bench players did really well again and, as our coach says, it’s not about individuals, but the team. We came here to play our best and do what we love and I’m happy we’ve been doing it.”

The Brazilians entered the last day of pool play guaranteed in second place but didn’t slow down, taking care of the young Bulgarian team in three sets. Older and taller, the South Americans were better in kills (34-32), blocks (6-4) and aces (9-3), besides taking advantage of the European’s 26 mistakes, more than twice as many to their 12.

Brazilian captain Aline Maestri receives during the match

Brazilian captain Aline Maestri receives during the match

Opposite Larissa Mendes led Brazil’s scoring efforts with 14 points (11 kills, one block, two aces), followed by middle blocker Juliana Costa, who produced 12 (eight kills, three blocks, one ace). Bulgaria relied once again in towering opposite Iva Dudova, who delivered 12 points (11 kills, one block).

“We knew in theory this was supposed to be our least complicated game in pool play but we wanted to make sure that would be case and that we would go to the elimination round with a good performance,” 1.99m-tall middle blocker Luzia Nezzo, who scored five points, said. “We talked about it before the match and I’m really proud of our attitude today. We’ve prepared really well for three months to compete here and I think we’re on a good path. But there’s still a long way to go and we’ll use the day off to study Thailand and prepare.”