Scotland set up a grandstand finish to the CEV Small Countries Division Junior Mens European Championships with a clear-cut victory over an enthusiastic Ireland team at Ravenscraig, Motherwell.
Scotland coach Thomas Dowens handed first starts of the event to Regan Kidd (South Ayrshire) and Matthew Wedlock (Su Ragazzi) with the game plan involving adequate gametime for all the players ahead of the upcoming match versus Luxembourg. Dowens was able to chop and change his lineup from set to set without a discernable drop in the overall quality of the performance, which was clearly encouraging to the Scotland supremo. Indeed, 11 of the 12 players were used from the start of at least one set, the one exception being Opposite Matthew Berry (Su Ragazzi) who was not considered due to a bout of flu.
Dowens praised the spirit and heart of his players over the course of the tournament, and reminded pundits that the team was still on course to achieve its pre-event goal of attaining a medal. Due to other results on Day 4, principally the defeat of San Marino at the hands of Cyprus, Scotland are now guaranteed a medal of some colour, with the closing match of the event versus Luxembourg likely to determine silver medal position.
Ireland coach Laurent Cauet paid tribute to the depth of talent in the Scottish team, and compared the Scottish youth setup to that in Ireland. The Irish have only one player who is involved in club volleyball, and with no youth league, most of the players only competitive outlet is school competition.
Ireland have won many friends over the week, if not any matches, although by going to 20-25 in the third set against the Scots, they came closest to attaining their ultimate goal of securing an international set.
In the early game, Cyprus overcame stuffy opposition in the shape of a pumped-up San Marino team to retain their 100% record. San Marino opened brightly, and a spell of strong serving from middle blocker Daniele Terenzi together with wastefulness on the part of Cyprus handed the first set to San Marino 25-20, with San Marino captain Lorenzo Benvenuti in particularly fine form.
Cyprus exchanged wing spiker Konstantinos Yiannakos, who had been excellent in their first three matches, but appeared to be off the boil here, for the explosive Konstantinos Ttofias, and this, coupled with added aggression in the blocking phase, turned the tide back to the Cypriots, who were seldom therafter troubled and emerged victors 25-16; 25-14; 25-19.
Luxembourg were handed a shock in the first set of their game by Northern Ireland, with the Ulstermen claiming the first set 25-23 as Irish wing spiker Peter Stewart proved the main man in the early exchanges. Luxembourg reintroduced middle blocker Ben Hoffman to the fray in the second set and his extra strength in the block helped negate the Irish attack. With the match in the balance, wing spiker Maurice Van Landeghem took the first service of the third set, and split the tie wide open with 11 unanswered service points, permitting Luxembourg to see off the match.
The Scotland v Luxembourg match will close out the SCD finals, with first ball at Ravenscraig scheduled for 8.30pm. A large crowd, including Great Britain Olympic hopefuls Lynne Beattie and Chris Lamont is expected for the match. To see Scotland claim their first European Championships medal in 12 years, get down to Ravenscraig tomorrow and join in the party!