Great Britain men’s team lost 26-24 14-25 23-25 19-25 to Belgium in the final clash of their three-match series at Edinburgh University’s Pleasance Sports Complex as the Belgians swept the series 3-0. But, for GB coach, the matches were about assessing all of his options before the Olympics as he cuts his squad from 14 to 12 within the next few days. “It was obvious the selection was on the back of the players’ minds, not only at the back of it but they were playing with it all the time,” he said. “It was more obvious with some players than others. It’s always difficult when you are pushing really hard. “We were working hard on selection so you are not coaching to win – you try to win but it’s not the focus of the week, it’s about giving everyone a fair chance.” In a tight opening set, Belgium had control early on with Bram Van Den Bries catching the eye and putting his team 5-3 ahead with a superb crosscourt smash. But GB hit back with some tough serving from captain Ben Pipes putting pressure on the Belgian serve-receive and a great block from Chris Lamont brought the home side to within one point, 5-6. Van Den Bries then produced some big serve as Belgium pulled away and GB’s hope of closing the gap was not helped by a string of service errors. Yassir Sliti came up with a couple of big points just when GB needed them the most but when Belgium moved to 22-17, it looked too much for the home side. Step forward Nathan French. He came up with some big serves as GB won the next seven points to move to set point at 24-22 with Jason Haldane wiping one off the block. Belgian coach Dominique Baeyens was forced to take two timeouts in quick succession deep in the set as the set was drifting away from his team. Belgium managed to save two set points before Mark Plotyczer blocked Van Den Dries to clinch the set for GB 26-24. Belgium came out with all guns blazing in the second set to win the first five points and GB found themselves 2-8 down at the first technical timeout. GB tried to eat into their lead and libero Dan Hunter had a fantastic pick-up which led to Sliti converting the point in the best rally of the set but GB struggled to put together a consistent run of points. Simon Van De Voorde scored some valuable points through the middle and Gertjan Claes demonstrated astute shot selection to keep Belgium in control. His clever tip over the block took his side to 20-11 and this time the Belgians did not lose their focus. This time when they reached 22 points, they did not let the home team back into it. Van De Voorde and then Gert Van Walle, hitting off the GB block, took them to set point and a wild hit by Plotyczer closed out the set 14-25 in Belgium’s favour. Mark McGivern and Dami Bakare came into the action for the first time and captain Pipes returned at the start of the third set as GB sought to exert their authority. But it was Belgium who led 8-5 at the first technical timeout with Plotyczer just too long with his hit on the outside. A block by Van De Voorde opened up a four-point lead 13-9 forcing GB coach Harry Brokking into a timeout and his players responded as they battled for every point to keep in touch. By the second technical timeout, it was GB who led 16-15 after a handling error by the Belgian libero Bert Derkoningen. The teams traded points at the end of the set – Belgium led 21-19 but GB levelled on a service ace by Pipes which the Belgians felt was long. GB never managed to get back in front although Dami Bakare demonstrated his power with a terrific spike to level at 23-23.
Belgium shrugged it off and took the set 25-23 with Van Den Dries scoring off the block. Belgium sped to a 4-0 lead in the fourth set and a hitting error from Dami Bakare took them to 8-5 at the first technical timeout. GB struggled to find consistency – a terrific hit from Dami Bakare took it to 11-15 but then Kieran O’Malley served into the net on the next point as Belgium led 16-11 at the technical timeout. A thumping hit from Claes moved the score to 18-12 and asked serious questions of the GB side but a service ace from Plotyczer when he found the corner of the court forced Baeyens into another timeout with his team leading 21-16. It proved enough to steady the ship. Verhanneman brought up their first match point and, although Matius Valkiers served into net, they won it on the next point when French was long with his serve.
Starting Six: P Bakare, Pipes, Plotyczer, French, Lamont, Sliti
Came in: Haldane, O’Malley, McGivern, D Bakare, Howe
Starting Six: Van Den Bries, Coolman, Claes, Van De Voorde, Verhanneman, Valkiers
Came in: Backaert, D’Hulst, Van Walle