Hosts Qatar will take on Chile in one of Saturday’s Volleyball Challenger Cup men’s semifinals in Doha. In the other, an all-European clash between Türkiye and Ukraine will determine the other finalists. The eventual winner of the tournament will earn the right to compete in Volleyball Nations League 2024.

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In their quarterfinal against Thailand on Friday, Qatar produced a straight-set victory, but their opponents put up quite a battle and each of the sets was resolved by the narrowest of margins with two even going to overtime, 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 26-24). It was Qatar’s first Challenger Cup win, after they lost their quarterfinal at their rookie appearance in 2022.

Qatar had the lead through most of the first set, with Thailand occasionally taking over. In the money time, the South East Asians managed to jump to a two-point lead at 21-19, but the home side fought back and closed the set on their second set point. With Thailand’s assertive opposite Napadet Bhinijdee continuing to spearhead his team’s attacks, the second set followed pretty much the same storyline. The Thais could not hold on to their 21-19 advantage and Qatar doubled their lead. Thailand even recovered from the 8-1 Qatari run at the start of the third set and were the first to reach set point, but a kill block by Belal Nabel Abunabot crowned a three-point series for the home team and marked the 26-24 match winner.

Bhinijdee was the best scorer of the game with 23 points for Thailand, including two aces, while four Qatari players reached the double digits on the winners’ side: Raimi Wadidie with 16 points (including three aces and a block), Ribeiro Renan with 12, Youssef Oughlaf with 11 and captain Mohamed Ibrahim with 10. While the teams were pretty level on most scoring elements, it was the blocking that gave Qatar the key advantage with seven stuffs against three.

“It was really exciting! To have all these people, the kids and the families around is amazing!” Mohamed Ibrahim said after the match. “We haven’t had this kind of completion here in Doha in a long time. Now we are ready to repeat it, if possible. Like every day, tomorrow we have to win in order to go to the next round. We’ll see how it goes, but our mindset now is to reach the final.”

Last year’s finalists Türkiye made it to the Challenger Cup semifinals for the third time in a row. In Friday’s last quarterfinal, they managed a 3-1 (25-20, 25-17, 24-26, 25-19) victory over Dominican Republic and will face Ukraine in one of the semis on Saturday.

The Turks recovered from early Dominican leads in each of the first two sets and then cruised to comfortable wins with Efe Bayram swinging for the winning points in both to give his team a two-set lead. The Dominicans battled on to stay in control for most of the third set and when it looked certain they were not going down in three, the Turks bounced back from a 23-17 deficit to leve the score at 23-23 and push the set to overtime. Dominican Republic held up to take the set anyway with setter Juan De Jesus Hernandez blocking to convert their second set point to a 26-24 close. Riding the momentum, the Caribbeans stormed the third set on a 3-0 run and held the initiative through 11-10, after which Türkiye put more pressure in serving to turn things around to another comfortable 25-19 close, shaped up with a block-out swing by Kaan Gurbuz.

While Dominican Republic’s opposite Henry Tapia Santana produced the match high of 24 points, including three kill blocks, two of Türkiye’s players were close behind down the scorers’ chart. Each delivered three aces and 17 kills in attack, Adis Lagumdzija finished with 21 points and Efe Bayram added another 20 towards their team’s success.

“The first games are always difficult because you don’t know what to expect. I did not expect such a huge crowd to be here and cheer for us, because we are playing away from home, but it’s nice to see them and I am glad all these fans came to support us,” Adis Lagumdzija commented. “We’ve played Ukraine many times. About a month ago we played them in the finals of the (European) Golden League. They are a really strong team and we expect a big fight, but we hope to win, of course.”