Stern faces the Bulgarian block during the Slovenian victory

Competing in the Volleyball Nations League for just the second time in 2022, Slovenia secured a critical win against Bulgaria in their second match in Gdansk, Poland, on Thursday, and have entered the qualification zone of the tournament, which will see its top eight teams competing in the Finals later this month.

Helped by a strong performance by opposite Toncek Stern, who scored 18 points, the team coached by Mark Lebedew topped fellow Europeans Bulgaria in four sets (25-22, 22-25, 25-18, 25-16) to remain on track in the VNL.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The victory placed Slovenia inside the qualification zone in eighth place as the Europeans now have the same five wins as Iran, but hold a one-point advantage over their Asian opponents (15 to 14), who lost to Italy on Thursday. The competition between the two teams for a spot in the Finals will reach a critical moment on Friday, when they meet at 17.00 local time (15.00 GMT).

The Slovenians, who finished fourth in their first VNL appearance in 2021, a year in which they also won silver at the European Championships, arrived in Gdansk with just three wins in their first eight matches, but have climbed the standings with back-to-back victories against Serbia and Iran in which they were able to collect all six points.

Stern was key against the Bulgarians, scoring 14 of his 18 points in kills and adding three aces and one block. His efforts from the service line, which generated the only Slovenian aces in the match, proved really important for his team. He had two consecutive winners early in the third set to give his team a 5-2 lead, and another between two Bulgarian players to take the score to 15-10 in the fourth set.

Tonček Štern Aces Leader in Bulgaria vs. Slovenia

Outside hitters Klemen Cebulj and Rok Mozic also had great contributions to the Slovenian triumph with each of them adding 14 points, with similar productions of 13 kills and one block.

“It’s very nice to be with this group, they’re amazing,” the 20-year-old Mozic commented. “Being the youngest on the squad comes with some responsibilities, but these guys are great. They were my idols growing up and it’s very nice to play with them.”


Bulgarians and Slovenians fight for the point at the net

Bulgaria’s top scorers in the match were outside hitters Martin Atanasov, who had 15 points (12 kills, two aces, one block), and Aleksandar Nikolov, who had 13 (ten kills, three blocks).

The Bulgarians are currently ranked 15th in the VNL with one win and six points and will have two more matches, the first of which will be against the Netherlands, to try to remain ahead of Australia (one win, two points) and secure their presence in the VNL 2023. They can no longer qualify for the Finals.