For the first time in 32 years, ever since the inaugural edition of 1989, Bulgaria will win a medal at the FIVB Boys' U19 World Championship after coming back from a set down to stun Russia 3-1 (14-25, 25-21, 25-20, 20-25, 15-13) in the first semifinal of the 2021 edition of the competition which continues in Tehran.
Incredible Bulgaria continue to stun at Boys' U19 Worlds with epic semifinal win
Balkan side dazzles in Tehran as they take down Russia to secure second medal in 32 years
Published 02:03, 01 Sep 2021
It was the first defeat in the Tehran tournament for Russia, who had beaten Bulgaria 3-1 in pool play earlier.
But Bulgaria have secured their second medal in the history of the competition, after a bronze in the inaugural edition in 1989 in Dubai.
Russia immediately established dominance over Bulgaria from the very start of the semifinal and dashed, forcing the Balkan side to commit as many as 10 unforced errors in the first set alone.
Bulgaria reacted quickly and opened up a six-point early in the second set as it became Russia's turn to start committing errors. Though that lead gradually evaporated as Russia drew level at 16-16, Bulgaria broke away again and reached set point at 24-20 before Erik Stoev put the last ball away.
And Bulgaria kept the pressure on in the third, with, at times, some brilliant plays that left Russia struggling and brought Martin Stoev's side ahead.
Russia came into the fourth all pumped up - a lot of shouting and boisterous celebrating going on for each point. Cornered against the ropes, the three-time world champions minimised their errors and restored order to force a tie-break and stay alive in the game.
It was neck-and-neck in the fifth, until captain Mikhail Labinskii delivered back-to-back aces that gave Russia a two-point lead through to 12-10, though service error by Klim Mozzhukhin and a long hit by Kirill Vlasov brought the two sides level again.
Off the Russian block and away by Venislav Antov and a huge block by Georgi Tatarov on Vlasov was all the Bulgaria needed to score yet another five-set stunner after they had knocked out defending champions Italy in the quarterfinals.
Tatarov's performance was key in Bulgaria's win as he stuffed the Russians five times and attacked for 52% (18/34) to emerge best scorer of his team on 23 points - though Russia's Timofei Tikhonov with 25 and Mikhail Labinskii with 24 scored slightly more.
When the final count was in, 36 unforced errors by Russia to 30 by Bulgaria (6-2 in the tie-break) were a deciding factor in the astounding outcome.
Bulgaria are now up against the winner of the Iran v Poland semifinal which follows, while Russia are resigned to play for bronze against the loser.
"Maybe the game was not very attractive, but the stress of the game was very high," said Bulgaria coach Martin Stoev after the match. "I hope that we can become heroes. That is why we are here. Of course, our priority is to play a good game and then win," he added in reference to Thursday's final.
"This game could have been a very easy match for us, but we put pressure on ourselves and let our emotions overwhelm us, and that made it impossible for us to do what we should have done," said Russia coach Maxim Maximov after the semifinal.