The men’s national volleyball team secured the most unlikely of qualifications to the knockout stages of the European Championship on Wednesday, earning the ticket to the last 16 of the tournament having conceded just one point less than Portugal in a story that seemed taken straight out of a Jules Verne book.
The players of coach Dimitris Andreopoulos lost 3-0 to Bulgaria in their first group game last Thursday and snatched a set against favorite Italy the following day to lose 3-1. The hosts of the Montpellier pool, France, beat Greece 3-0 on Saturday, but the Greeks knew it was the last couple of group games they had to win to qualify to the second round.
They came from behind to beat Romania 3-1 on Monday and looked good for going all the way against Portugal on Tuesday, winning the first set and leading 9-3 in the second. Then Greece suddenly seemed deflated, as the Portuguese turned things around with four substitutions and won the game 3-1, leaving the Greeks with just some mathematical hopes for qualifying.
Greece, that had already completed its group games, needed Romania to upset the odds and defeat Portugal on Wednesday, but only with a 3-1 score and within a specific margin of points. Remarkably, Romania did exactly that, eliminating both itself and Portugal, and allowing Greece to go through: The three teams were level on wins and sets, while Portugal and Greece also had the same number of points scored in their five games: 386. The Greeks went through for having conceded 432 points against 433 by the Portuguese.
Upon hearing the news the Greek players stormed into the corridors of their hotel in Montpellier and danced around in a mix of joy and disbelief.
They will now have to leave France and travel to Ljubljana where they will likely face mighty Russia for a place in the quarterfinals.