Greek volleyball to miss out on Beijing

Greece saw its dream of qualifying for the Olympic volleyball tournament in Beijing dashed on Saturday as it lost to Italy in the semifinal of the pre-Olympic tournament in Sicily. Previously, Greece had lost 3-0 to the Netherlands and beaten Romania 3-1, to finish second in its subgroup in Catania. In the semifinal Italy downed Greece 3-0 within just over an hour, despite the reshuffling attempts by head coach Alekos Leonis, who made several substitutions during the course of the game trying to turn the tide. Leonis used all 12 players at his disposal but none of them got to score more than five points on the night. It took the Greeks more than two sets to win their first ace in the match. Italy outclassed Greece and won 25-15, 25-19, 25-19 in a total of just 65 minutes to advance to Sunday’s final, where they beat the Netherlands 3-2 and earned the ticket for the CEV European Qualifying Tournament for the Olympics to take place in Turkey on January 7-13. Greece enjoyed the support of some 50 Greek students, to whom the Greek players gave their shirts after the end of the match. However, hardly anyone could be proud of the team’s performance that has ended Greek hopes for a second successive participation in the Olympics, after a decent show in the Athens Olympics three years ago when Greece narrowly missed out on a place in the semifinals. «Greece finds itself at a crucial crossroads,» said Leonis. «We are working along with the federation to build a new team. Yet this requires plenty of effort and patience.» «I am happy with the efforts of all my players. I believe that the biggest gain from this tournament has been Evgenios Gortsaniouk and Achilleas Papadimitriou,» he said, referring to two of his recent additions to the national squad. There is however a very small chance for Greece to be invited via a «wild-card» to another pre-Olympic qualification tournament, taking place in May 2008.