In September 2019, Slovenia co-organised the CEV EuroVolley Championship, which was also held in three other countries: in France, the Netherlands and Belgium. All of Slovenia lived and breathed volleyball between 13 and 29 September. The games in Stožice Arena were very well attended, and the national team’s outstanding performance created a state of volleyball euphoria.
The championship was for the first time organised by four countries. A total of 24 national teams competed in the event. The competition organisation system assigned 19 matches to Slovenia, including one of the semi-finals, while the other semi-final match and the grand final were held in Paris. Ljubljana’s Stožice Arena hosted one of the preliminary rounds in which Slovenia faced off against five national teams: Russia, Finland, Turkey, Belarus and North Macedonia.
The Slovenian players did an excellent job, raised on the wings of cheering fans. The packed Stožice Arena was alive with cheers of encouragement in an amazing atmosphere. The venue had never seen such spirit before. Alberto Giuliani’s players inspired a true volleyball frenzy among Slovenians, and it just kept on growing to the final match.
But it all started well before the championship. The organisers made sure that Slovenians genuinely connected with the sport. In the summer, for instance, they organised a beach volleyball tournament in Congress Square, Ljubljana’s main square.
Right before the championship the events reached their peak with a spectacular volleyball tournament that was held on water for the first time ever.
Ambassadors of EuroVolley 2019 challenged each other on the River Ljubljanica, right in the centre of the capital. The court was a type of raft marked with glowing lines to delineate the actual playing surface. The embankment served as the stands, and it was completely packed! The unique design of the court attracted plenty of visitors, and convinced many that attending the championship was an essential next step in their enjoyment of the sport.
Several former professional volleyball players had a go on the water: Bas Van de Goor (Netherlands), Guillaume Samica (France), Frank Depestele (Belgium) and Slovenian championship ambassador Tomi Šmuc. The match between volleyball superstars was followed by an enthralling duel between the best Slovenian biathletes and ski jumpers.
And then the serious business began. In all honesty, our team did an amazing job. After the preliminary rounds the Slovenian team beat Bulgaria in the Round of 16, then outplayed Russia in the quarter-finals and defeated Poland, the current world champions, in the semi-final in Ljubljana. Unfortunately, the Serbian team was too tough for the Slovenians in the finals, and they returned to their homeland with silver medals in their hands, repeating their success from the EuroVolley 2015 Championship.
In Paris, the volleyball heroes enjoyed the support of thousands of Slovenian fans, many of whom travelled there by car. Over 3,000 of them cheered for the team in the Accor Hotels Arena, and their singing of Zdravljica, Slovenia’s national anthem, was a truly emotional experience.
Although everything did not go according to plan, it seemed that the players were much more disappointed than the fans who had travelled thousands of kilometres to see the event. Indeed, while the fans swelled with pride, Tine Urnaut, the captain of the Slovenian team, could not mask his disappointment. "This is a bitter disappointment, but we have to look at the bright side, we did a lot to popularise volleyball. To have so many people travel to Paris to show support... is such a positive surprise," he said after the match. "The whole of Slovenia is proud of the medals, but we were aiming for the top. In 2015 the silver shone as bright as gold, but this time it’s just silver," added Dejan Vinčić.
Olympic volleyball qualification in January
The players, who spent quite some time together before the championship, will join forces once again at the beginning of next year to secure qualification for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The tournament, which will be held in Berlin, will feature seven European national teams divided into two pools. Slovenia will compete against Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, while the second pool will see Serbia, France, Bulgaria and the Netherlands fight for one of the two spots in the semi-finals. However, only the winner of the tournament in Berlin will get to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.
"Another long tournament is ahead of us, and we will have to do our absolute best. I hope that we’ll be able to heal all the injuries we have, there are more than just a few, and that we’ll be in great physical shape. If that is the case, we’ll have enough energy to qualify for the Olympics," said captain Tine Urnaut, with a bit more confidence.
After all, our silver team was welcomed in the centre of Ljubljana by thousands of fans from all over Slovenia who showed that the colour of the medal is not important.
What counts is the players’ effort, fighting spirit and enthusiasm while wearing the national team’s colours. We will most certainly support and cheer for them during next year’s Olympic qualification matches.
Date: 1. November 2019
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