Baku, Azerbaijan, November 12, 2011. Bulgaria booked this afternoon a ticket for the European Olympic Qualification Tournament scheduled for May 2012 in Istanbul after the girls mentored by Italian-born head coach Marcello Abbondanza edged the home heroines of Azerbaijan in the final of the Olympic pre-qualifier that took place this week in Baku with the score of 3:2 (25-12, 21-25, 25-18, 15-25, 15-9).
After the guests from Bulgaria had scored the first couple of rallies, Azerbaijan clawed back with Rahimova and Aliyeva to clip five points in a row. However, right after this positive run the defense started shaking and Bulgaria went up again (7:5, 11:7). After a time-out asked by head coach Faig Garayev, Oksana Mammadyarova joined the game and she helped cut the gap (15:11). Two more errors of Odina Aliyeva widened the margin for Bulgaria that sped up to comfortably claim that set at 25-12.
The second set started with a very close battle (6:6) before Azerbaijan gradually got control of the game (8:7, 16:11) to approach the final rush with a solid margin of 6 points (20:14). Even though the guests from Bulgaria scored four in a row, still Azerbaijan could claim the set at 25-21.
After trailing down 2:4, the home girls drew level at 5 in set 3 but their reception was again too faulty; Bulgaria sailed away 8:5 and 11:7, before coach Garayev asked for another break. This did not change the course of the game with Bulgaria setting the pace by the second technical time-out (16:9) to finish it off at 25-18.
With the help of Odina Aliyeva, the home heroines got back their best play in set 4 (8:3, 14:7) and as the score stood at 20:10, it looked like the fate of this section was already determined. It did not last that long before Azerbaijan stamped the final 25-15 on the scoreboard.
The Olympic dream was at stake in the deciding tie-break, where the guests immediately went up 5:2. After Kseniya Kovalenko scored one for Azerbaijan, Bulgaria responded with three in a row and after teams changed sides was up by 4 (9:5). Azerbaijan attempted a late comeback but it did not succeed and Bulgaria could eventually celebrate its ticket for next year’s last stop of the European Olympic qualification process to be held in Istanbul.