Great Britain were given another tough workout by Belgium in their second match in their three-match test series at Edinburgh University’s Pleasance Sports Complex as they fell to an 18-25, 20-25, 29-27, 15-25 defeat.
Coach Harry Brokking took a chance to look at his options and started with back-up setter Kieran O’Malley and centre Pete Bakare and kept Dami Bakare and Chris Lamont on the sidelines throughout.
It was a case of looking at his options before selecting his final Olympic squad for London with two players from his squad of 14 to be cut after Saturday’s final match against the Belgians.
Understandably, GB struggled to find their rhythm but they saved four match points – three in a thrilling third set which they managed to win. “It is difficult when we started with a completely new team after Tuesday and from the beginning we were struggling to find our rhythm with all the subsitutions,” admitted Brokking. “But we had to come out of it and we didn’t which was disappointing. But we had a good look at the players before we make our decisions. “We saw in the third set when we brought players back that we had the organisation back but we had to keep it going in the fourth set and we didn’t. “Unfortunately, we have to cut two players and I have to do it quicker than any other coach in the world which makes it even more difficult. “You can see there is a kind of tension on the court because of the cut in the squad and the players are feeling the pressure and it makes it more difficult for them than normal. “There will be pressure in the Olympic games but it will be a different type of pressure. It will bring the pressure of another kind of excitement rather than the pressure of finding out if you are going to play in the Olympics or not.”
GB won the opening point but Belgium, who had left the influential Bram Van Den Bries out of their starting six, took a grip of the set. A service ace from Simon Van De Voorde took the Belgians to 7-4 but GB closed the gap to one point 7-8 when Pete Bakare pierced the Belgian block through the middle. But the home side – as they had in Tuesday’s opening loss – struggled with their service but Belgium also suffred with Gert Van Walle and Kevin Klinkenberg putting successive serves into the net as GB kept in touch at 13-15.
Belgium pulled away to lead 18-13 before Joel Miller’s smash down to line offered the home side some respite but Miller then served long and the momentum was lost. Van Walle came up with a couple of big blocks in the final stages of the set and, even when starting setter Ben Pipes came on at the end of the set, GB could not turn the tide. Klinkenberg wiped one off the block to bring up set point at 24-17 and, although Mark McGivern saved one set point after a quick set by Pipes, Matthijs Verhanneman hit off the block to give Belgium the set 25-18.
O’Malley resumed as setter at the start of the second set but it was Belgium who were out of the blocks first, establishing a 6-2 lead. Simon Van De Voorde kept up the pressure with a powerful hit through the middle to give Belgium a 17-12 lead and GB could not put together a string of points to get back in touch. Van Walle scored off Joel Miller’s attempted block and then contributed the next point as Belgium moved onto 21-14 and in command of the set. Klinkenberg penetrated the GB block again to bring up set point and, although the home side offered some resistance by saving three set points, Andrew Pink served inches long and Belgium took the set 25-20.
Belgium did not let their grip slacken. They took an early 3-0 lead in the third set and Brokking sent Mark Plotyczer on for the first time as Belgium built to 13-10.
At the second technical timeout, the lead was up to six points (16-10) but GB ralllied to 15-17 under some heavy serving from Jason Haldane as the Belgivum serve-receive was put under some pressure.
GB showed great resilience to keep in touch but it looked as if it was all to no avail as Van De Voorde found another gap through the middle to bring up match point at 24-23. But the home side would not give it up and saved no fewer than three match points with Haldane making his experience felt with two lethal hits. Pete Bakare then stepped up to the plate and gave GB their first set point with a huge block on Van Walle.
Belgium saved it through a precision hit but Bakare responded swiftly to give his side another set point. This time captain Pipes produced an explosive serve which could not be retrieved and GB took the set 29-27. Belgium hit back in the final set. A block from Nathan French took GB to 12-14 but Belgium reeled off four unanswered points including a service ace from Stijn D’Hulst which dropped just an inch inside the back-line. Wim Backaert turned up the heat when he smashed the ball at the feet of Haldane to put Belgium 19-13 ahead and they did not let their grip slip. Van Walle hit down the line to make it 23-14 and then Gertjan Claes came up with a big block on Nathan French to bring up their fourth match point. Pete Bakare again came up with the block but Belgium won it on their fifth match point when Plotyczer was marginally long with his spike.