A decisive duel awaits the volleyball players at the Gelridome in Arnhem on Friday evening with a view to securing a place in the World Cup quarter-finals. Defeat against Belgium will not improve prospects for the second group stage, which will be played in Rotterdam next week. “On paper we are stronger,” Captain Anne Puigs said optimistically after Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico.
The volleyball players have done what was expected of them so far with clear 3-0 victories over Kenya and Cameroon and 3-1 wins over Puerto Rico. On Friday evening, the Vitesse football stadium, which has been converted into a temple of volleyball, will fill with about 10,000 spectators when Belgium is the opponent, ranking 13th, three places lower in the world ranking than the Netherlands. All points obtained in the first round will be transferred to the second group stage, where the Netherlands will meet Brazil and China, among other countries.
The first set the orange lost to the Central American country didn’t cost a point – the winning team only gets two points at 3-2 – but it has consequences for the set average. Puig also knew that “every point and every set counts”, who was particularly pleased with how the team recovered after a faltering start. “We couldn’t beat it offensively at first, they always solved it easily.” Partly due to good blocking – at least nineteen block points in four sets – the Netherlands took the lead.
“There was some tension in the team,” Libero’s inheritance shot pointed out. “It was the first game where we had to deal with serious opposition. We had to deal with a lot of injuries last summer and we didn’t play much in that combination. We have to grow in the tournament. You see an upward trend.”
That should continue against Belgium on Friday. The team and especially top scorer Brett Herbots (28 points) made an impression against Italy, which won 3-1. “I think it’s comparable to Puerto Rico in terms of level,” Schott said. “They defend very fanatically and have a good pass/feud with the Herbots. I also met a number of my former teammates and we played against each other at the beginning of this summer. It’s always a thing.”
Puig doesn’t think her team will face surprises on Friday. “We know them well, our southern neighbours. It’s a very tough team and they’re always very long races. I think they finished 3-2 in 95 percent of the cases.”
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