Osaka, Japan, October 11, 2018 - Bulgaria ended their World Championship campaign on a high note by defeating eastern European rivals Azerbaijan 3-0 in the first match of the fourth and last day of play at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium on Thursday morning. The Bulgarians won their second straight Pool F game - 25-19, 25-20, 25-20 - to end the tournament with a 4-5 win-loss record. Azerbaijan could not add to their two wins from the first round in Kobe and closed on 2-7.
Wing spiker Miroslava Paskova top-scored for Bulgaria with 13 points, while Polina Rahimova led the Azerbaijan reply with 16 points, including 13 spikes and three sizzling jump-serve aces.
In a match between the teams who occupied the bottom two places in Pool F at the start of the day, Bulgaria began strongly behind an accurate serve and a flying spike from Miroslava Paskova swooping from the back court. Middle blocker Nasya Dimitrova, who came into this match with 110 points for the tournament, gave her team momentum.
Azerbaijan were struggling to keep up, despite a fierce jump serve ace from Polina Rahimova and more clean hitting from Natalya Mammadova, who has really grown into this tournament as a reliable and consistent wing spiker.
The Bulgarians, looking confident and determined to enjoy their last match of the 2018 World Championship, took the first set 25-19 with six points from captain Hristina Ruseva, including two blocks.
Bulgaria led 8-2 at the first TTO of the second set and Azerbaijan introduced Yelyzaveta Samadova into the attack on the resumption of play. Azerbaijan continued to struggle against the serve and block of Bulgaria and slipped behind 12-3. When a floating serve from Paskova went straight through Azerbaijan's defence for a clean ace, the gap was 10 points at 14-4.
A Samadova spike and a sequence of accurate serves from setter Krystsina Yagubova brought Azerbaijan back into the set but they still trailed by four at the second TTO, 16-12. Rahimova demolished the Bulgaria defence with her third jump serve ace to reduce the gap to 18-17 and force a Bulgaria TO. Olena Hasanova swiped over a loose ball at the net to keep Azerbaijan close and Rahimova looked back to her best on the right flank, but Bulgaria found the points at the right time to close out the second set 25-20 for 2-0.
In the third set, Nasya Dimitrova stepped up the pace for Bulgaria and captain Ruseva spiked down the centre as they led 16-14 at the second TTO. Rahimova was reproducing her free-flowing form from the first round and captain Odina Aliyeva was a constant threat, so Bulgaria could never feel safe and called a TO when their lead was cut to 21-19. They returned to finish strongly for 25-20 and 3-0.