A face-off between FIVB Heroes Stanley, who scored 17 points, and León with 16 points opened the first semi-final on Saturday. In a very balanced match the Americans had the edge and their 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-23) victory gave them the chance to fight for the gold again.
In the second semi-final the Arena Armeec was packed to cheer on local Hero Tsvetan Sokolov and his teammates. They faced a serious challenge against the incredibly motivated Polish team that had already dispatched Brazil and Cuba – and the Polish guys did it again, disappointing thousands of Bulgarian fans with a 3-0 win (25-23, 25-20, 25-18). FIVB Hero Bartek Kurek was the top scorer of the game with 12 points.
The stage was set for the grand finale as the USA and Poland met for the first time in a World League final. Just before that, the bronze medal gave a preview of what fans all over the world could expect: a fierce battle. After more than two hours, Cuba beat Bulgaria in five sets (25-18, 19-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12), repeating the third place they had conquered in 2005. “We are very happy with this victory. It was a very difficult and hard match for both teams. We won a medal – something we have not done in a long time. The fighting spirit of the team helped us win. I want to thank the organisers for the great work they have done here,” said a pleased León after the game.
The final provided the happiest of endings for the hundreds of Polish fans who travelled all the way to Sofia, Bulgaria to witness their FIVB Heroes Kurek and Bartman score another 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-20) victory on their long climb to the top of international volleyball. After the game FIVB Hero Clayton Stanley, who scored 15 points, including three aces, tried to look on the bright side despite losing out: “At the beginning of this tournament, I did not think that our team would not be in this position, but our play improved. I am disappointed for losing the final match, but we will see what we did wrong and learn from our mistakes”.
Poland claimed the gold medal for the first time in their history. What better moment could there be for such an achievement than less than a month from the Olympic Games? They showed everyone that everything is possible and that fans can have high expectations for what is about to come.