Turkiye weathered a gallant fightback from hosts Qatar to win the Volleyball Challenger Cup 2023 at the Aspire Dome on Sunday. In the final, Turkiye edged past Qatar 3-2 (25-13, 21-25, 25-18, 22-25, 15-9) to clinch their maiden title and book a place in the elite Volleyball Nations League next year.

After two unsuccessful attempts to win the competition in 2019 and 2022, Turkiye had to overcome the resistance of Qatar in an intriguing five-set battle. Every time Turkiye took the lead, Qatar bounced back to draw level. But Turkiye persevered through the tough final to better their silver from last year.

Their superiority in the match was the result mostly of their better serving, with eight aces against none, and better blocking, with 14 stuffs against nine. Opposite Adis Lagumdzija led the match scorers with 21 points, followed by outside hitters Efe Bayram with 18 (three aces, three blocks) and Burutay Subasi with 15 (four blocks, one ace). Mubarak Dahi Hammad was Qatar’s most prolific player with 12 points.

The first set of the final was completely one-sided. Enjoying a lot of noisy support from the stands, the Turks established total domination on the court to cruise to a convincing close. Efe Bayram was their leading scorer in the set.

To his three kill blocks and one ace, he added three points in attack, including the set winner at 25-13. During the course of the second set, Qatar made some key changes to their line-up on the court that proved crucial to winning the set. With setter Borislav Georgiev and middle blocker Papemaguette Daigne in play, the home side levelled the score after 25-21. Pape himself brought in set point with a monster block and then capitalized on a perfect set from Georgiev to hammer the set winner.

Turkiye opened the third set with a 5-1 lead and never let go. They were masters on the court again while cruising to a convincing 25-18 win. But it was not over for Qatar just yet. They took control of the scoreboard with a 3-0 run at the start of set four and allowed the opponents to catch up only for a moment at 18-18. With Raimi Wadidie leading the way in offence, the home team took the set by 25-22 and once again levelled the match to push it to five.

However, Qatar stayed competitive only through 5-5 in the tie-breaker. After that, with Adis Lagumdzija on fire, Turkiye gradually broke away with an 11-8 lead before finishing the match off with four in a row, crowned by two aces from Efe, including the championship winner.

“It’s amazing! The gym is full, half with Qatari and the other half with Turkish people, and it’s amazing to play in front of such a crowd,” Lagumdzija said. “It was a difficult game, with many ups and downs, but we managed to win, so we are in the VNL next year and we are really happy!”

Meanwhile, Ukraine won the bronze medal. In the third-place game earlier, they mastered a 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-18) shutout of Chile to crown their rookie Challenger Cup appearance with a spot on the podium.

Ukraine’s advantage in blocking and serving offset Chile’s more productive offence, but what heavily tilted the outcome the Europeans’ way was the excessive number of unforced errors (25) the South Americans made against only nine from the opponents.

Vicente Parraguirre delivered a match-high 19 points, including two aces, for Chile. Captain Dusan Bonacic added another 13 (two kill blocks), while opposite Vasyl Tupchii was Ukraine’s leading scorer with 12 points, including four stuffs.

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