Ukrainian block against Nimir

Performing like a fine-tuned machine, Ukraine claimed victory against the Netherlands in the first of two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship 2022 Round of 16 matches in Ljubljana on Monday to progress to a quarterfinal against hosts Slovenia. Helped by their phenomenal blocking, the squad that replaced suspended Russia in the competition outplayed the Dutch 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-18) to make it into the world’s best eight teams for the first time in history.

Later on Monday at Arena Stozice, France and Japan will lock horns at 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT) to fill another vacancy in the quarterfinals and determine Italy’s next opponent.

· Watch all FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The Ukrainians piled up as many as 12 kill blocks across the three sets of their victory, against a single stuff for the Netherlands. Their match statistics also accounted for five serving aces against two for their opponents, and the team’s overall success rate in attack stood at a solid 64%.

While everyone on the Ukrainian squad played a great match, outside hitter Illia Kovalov stood out as their leading blocker with four stuffs, and leading server with three aces. He tallied a total of 12 points. One of his points from the end line brought in set point at 24-17 in the second set.

Opposite Vasyl Tupchii delivered the match high of 14 points, spiking at a success rate of 69% and adding three kill blocks. He produced the first set winner with a two-handed overpass hit. Early into the second set, he wiped out the three-point lead the Dutch had created. His monster block reset the score at 5-5.


The victory photo after the match

Outside hitter and captain Oleh Plotnytskyi was once again a team leader. He also contributed with 11 points, including an ace to bring Ukraine back to within one at 5-4 in the second set, and an off-the-block hit to close the set off at 25-19. He also brought in set point at 24-16 in the first set with what was practically an ace, but did not get counted as such because the opponents managed to put two touches on the ball before it dropped.

Ukraine’s middle blockers also excelled throughout the match. Yurii Semeniuk put in an early ace for the first break point of the game (2-0 in the first set) and hammered the match winner through the middle to reach double digits – 10 points, including three blocks and an ace. Maksym Drozd put away five points, including a monster block for 11-7 in the third set.

Libero Dmytro Kanaiev and setter Vitalii Shchytkov also did their part on the way to the victory, with the latter putting his name on the scoreboard with a kill block for 11-5 in the first set and a spiking point at his only attempt in offence.

Outside Thijs Ter Horst scored the Netherlands’ only blocking point in the match to narrow down Ukraine’s early lead in the first set to 5-3. He was the team’s best scorer with a total of 11 points. Opposite and captain Nimir Abdel-Aziz signed off with the team’s only two aces, both in the second set. The first one extended the Dutch lead to 10-8 and the second simply denied Ukraine’s second set point to narrow the gap down to 24-19. Nimir finished with 10 points. Middle Fabian Plak registered the highest success rate (71%) in attack on either side of the net. He spiked five points out of his seven attempts in offence.

“That’s amazing! It’s the result of our work for the past five years together - all this team, the guys, coaches, federation, everyone,” an emotional Plotnytskyi said after the match. “I’m almost starting to cry, because now it is so important for our country to win. The Netherlands are such a strong team, but today we played amazing. We had some time to rest after our last match in Poland and restored our energy. I am happy to play with an atmosphere like the one we will experience on Wednesday. The spectators are great in supporting Slovenia, but it will give us energy too and it will be a good match.”