Tijana Boskovic’s 32 points – including five big blocks – ensured Serbia made it a clean sweep of the second round of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League with a 3-1 (21-15, 25-23, 25-21, 25-17) victory over arch-rivals China on Thursday in Macau.
The star opposite spiker was rested and ready for the big occasion and the Chinese couldn’t cope once the 21-year-old found her groove after some rusty play in the first stanza.
In fact all the Serbs grew into the match the longer it played out, with Brankica Mihajlovic (15 points) also playing a big part in the victory. There were plenty of errors but also plenty for coach Zoran Terzic to work with going forward.
China have been a bit of a hit-and-miss affair in the VNL so far, as coach Lang Ping has tinkered with their youthful squad, but they looked good in the first set here, and were led then and all night by an impressive Gong Xiangyu (12 points).
There is a rich sense of anticipation whenever these two rivals meet, fuelled by the fact they fought out the final at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The Chinese walked away with the gold thanks to a 3-1 victory. Since then, though, it’s been all Serbia with two wins at world level – at last year’s FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix (3-1 and 3-1).
Arriving in Macau, the teams were tied 7-7 overall and such was Terzic’s desire to take this renewal that he rested Boskovic in the match the night before against Poland, which the Serbs won 3-1.
China’s young gun – 18-year-old spiker Li Yingying – was also left out of the previous night’s activities (a 3-1 win over Thailand) and coach Lang Ping held her back again on Thursday, most likely with one eye on the finals, which China have already qualified for as host nation. Li, whose service reception remains a work in progress, came on when the score was at 6-1 to the Serbs in the fourth set.
What made the Serbians’ victory all the more encouraging – in terms of the tournament in general – was it came despite the troubles Mihajlovic continued to have at times with her serve. The first four on Thursday night were all misses and saw the 27-year-old looking to the heavens for help. It came by the time the fourth set had arrived and the Serbs were well on their way to victory.
So the Serbs head to the next round with a record of 5-1 – the only loss so far coming last week against Brazil (3-1) – and with a team that is doing plenty of damage without being in top form. Somehow.
The Chinese are meanwhile at 3-3 and still struggling to find consistency – but there is plenty of time to find that still ahead. With games to come in Hong Kong – and the finals set for Ningbo – a worrying trend for coach Lang, however, is the fact that now each of her team’s past nine losses in world level major tournament matches have come in China.