GEORGI SEGANOV AND SVETOSLAV GOTSEV (BUL) BLOCK

Zhang Jingyin spikes past the block of Georgi Seganov and Svetoslav Gotsev

In a game between two teams who were no longer hopeful of making the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 Finals, or threatened by relegation, China and Bulgaria put up a four-set battle on Saturday with the Asian side celebrating with a 3-1 (26-28, 25-23, 25-23, 25-17) win in the end. It was their third since the start of the competition and secured at least a top-13 finish for the team. Currently on a 3-8 win-loss record and nine points, China still have a shot at moving two places further up the standings, which will be finalised on Sunday. Bulgaria finished their campaign in 14th place on 2-10 and nine points.

China’s outside hitter Zhang Jingyin had a 62% success rate in attack and topped the scorers’ chart of the match on a total of 18 points, including an ace and a block, followed by opposites Wang Jingyi of China and Denis Karyagin of Bulgaria on 15 points each. The VNL’s best blocker so far, Bulgarian middle Svetoslav Gotsev added another four stuffs to his tally, improving to a total of 35, or nine clear at the top of the ranking.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Svetoslav Gotsev’s blocks against China

A monster block by Gotsev crowned a series of four consecutive points that gave Bulgaria a 5-1 lead in the first set. China caught up at 8-8, but it was at 17-16 when they took their first lead after a successful block by opposite Zhang Guanhua. However, it was the European team who reached set point first at 24-23. The two sides exchanged some great attacks to push the set into overtime. Finally, a ball that came off the block of Bulgarian outside Martin Atanasov was touched by Chinese setter and captain Yu Yaochen on the way out of bounds to close the set at 28-26 Bulgaria’s way.

A monster block by middle Li Yongzhen for 5-2 was followed by a Zhang Jingyin ace for 6-2 to give China an early four-point lead in the second set, a blow Bulgaria never completely recovered from. They came back to within one to prompt an interesting epilogue, but Peng Shikun hammered it through the middle for 25-23 to level the match.

Zhang Jingyin’s top plays against Bulgaria

Zhang Jingyin monster-blocked to give China a three-point advantage at the third set’s technical time-out. Moments later, he produced another break point with a sharp cross-court kill for 14-10. The next one came from a spectacular blast by sub-in Wang Jingyi - without a block - for 16-11. Another spectacular rally, in which Yu Yaochen made an incredible back-of-the-hand set while diving for the ball, which Zhang Jingyin capitalised on with a pipe shot, put China at a 19-14 lead. Wang’s off-the-block hit brought in the set point at 24-21. Bulgaria kept battling to get back to within one, before another pipe kill by Zhang Jingyin closed the set at 25-23.

A great block by Yu Yaochen produced the first break point in set four and was followed by two more on consecutive aces by Peng, one with full power and one off speed and elegant, and then by another monster block by Yu for an early 5-0 Chinese breakaway. Staying well in control of the scoreboard, the Asian team cruised on to a 25-17 win, shaped up by outside Yu Yuantai with a successful spike for the match winner.

“I am so excited for this victory. I think we did very well today and accumulated precious experience from this match,” China’s Yuan Dangyi said after the game. “Every victory pushes us to do better. Thanks to all the fans who support us, we do our best. We must always do our best, whatever the match, whatever the score...”

This result between the two teams, neighbours in the FIVB World Ranking before the match, lifted China up from 19th to 17th, while pushing Bulgaria down from 20th to 22nd.

While this was the end to Bulgaria’s participation in VNL 2022, China have one more game to play, against Serbia on Sunday.

Saturday’s VNL programme in the other pool in Osaka started with Argentina’s 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19) upset of Olympic champions France, which kept the South Americans in contention for the Finals. They are now ninth on a 5-6 win-loss record and 17 points. Their outsides Ezequiel Palacios and Luciano Vicentin led the match scorers with 17 points apiece.

Then, USA won the North American clash with neighbours Canada by 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-19) with outside TJ DeFalco delivering the match-high of 18 points. The Americans improved to 9-2 and are third on 25 points, just below second-placed Japan (9-2 and 27) who claimed a 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-20) come-from-behind victory over Germany with opposite Kento Miyaura leading the way with 17 points.

Next in Gdansk, Iran will take on Serbia, before the Netherlands and hosts Poland close the penultimate competition day of this first stage of VNL 2022.