Baku, June 15, AZERTAC
Azerbaijan's first major international match in men's volleyball ended in defeat after they threw away a two-set lead to lose 3-2 against Finland at Crystal Hall 1 on Sunday.
Having only previously played in the European League, this was the country's chance to shine on a bigger stage after they qualified for the Baku 2015 European Games as host nation.
The first set was a close one, with the lead changing hands multiple times before Azerbaijan won successive points to give them breathing space. Two set points were wasted, but spurred on by a hugely partisan crowd, Azerbaijan won the set and received a standing ovation as team staff leaped off the bench to celebrate.
Ranked as the world's joint-102nd side, Azerbaijan carried their good form into the second set. Four more set points were theirs and at the second time of asking they took it 25-22. Finland came back to take the third 25-18, and continued the recovery to level at 2-2.
To cap a remarkable comeback, Finland won an exhilarating fifth set 15-13 thanks to a huge kill from top scorer Karl Kulaots, who got 27 points overall.
In the first match of the afternoon session, Bulgaria got their campaign off to a positive start with a 3-2 win against Belgium in a match that lasted nearly three hours.
Bulgaria won the first set 25-16, before Belgium took the second 25-23. Bulgaria regained the lead in the third as the 207cm opposite Jani Jeliazkov (BUL), son of coach Nikolay Jeliazkov (BUL), scored 13 points including the kill that won it 25-20.
Belgium, whose squad featured the youngest player in either men's or women's tournament, 15-year-old Berre Peters, rallied to take the fourth 25-23. The fifth was lit up by a magnificent ace by Nikoly Nikolov (BUL), and Bulgaria sealed the win with a superb double block at the net to win the decider 15-11.