Slovenia enjoyed a morale-boosting send-off to the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League on its final day in the Philippines. This followed their three-set victory over the Netherlands, with scores of 25-20, 32-20, and 25-22, on Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Slovenes finished the preliminary pool in seventh place, with an 8-4 win-loss record. On the other hand, the Dutch failed to advance to the Final Round, ending with a 5-7 card.
Klemen Cebulj led Slovenia throughout the match, contributing eight attacks, four blocks, and a service ace.
“Losing against Italy last time was tough for us. It was hard to recover, but we talked about the things we need to change and our goals in order to continue in the right way. I think we showed it today against the Netherlands,” said the 31-year-old Slovenj Gradec native, discussing the keys to their important victory.
Slovenia started the match strongly, taking care of their passing in the opening set. Despite a late surge from the Dutch, who demonstrated a sense of urgency, the Slovenes secured the set advantage thanks to a crucial kill from captain Tine Urnaut.
Carrying the momentum into the second set, Slovenia took a 21-17 lead. Then the Netherlands rallied to seize a 22-21 advantage, with their captain Nimir Abdel-Aziz leading the charge.
Recognizing the tight endgame, Slovenia’s Alen Pajenk delivered a well-timed block to deny Nimir another opportunity to extend the set.
The Netherlands fought to stay in the match but faced several match points, with Rok Mozic delivering a powerful kill for Slovenia. The Dutch saved one of these points, but the match ultimately concluded with their 28th error – a service fault from Nimir.
Urnaut proved crucial for Slovenia, scoring points in pivotal moments and accumulating 14 points overall, including 12 spikes and two service aces. Rok Mozic, who regained his starting spot as the team’s diagonal, added 11 points.
Nimir was the sole player from the Netherlands to reach double digits, contributing 22 points through 18 spikes, two blocks, and two service aces. Middle blocker Fabian Plak played a significant role in the Netherlands’ transition plays, earning eight markers from positive receptions.