Volleyball: Turkiye’s Sultans of the Net are champions of Europe!

Turkiye’s national women’s volleyball team made history on Sunday night after claiming their first European crown. The Turkish side came from behind to beat reigning world champions Serbia 3-2 in the final of the Women’s European Volleyball Championship in Brussels.

A capacity crowd of 10,688 spectators at the Palais 12 indoor arena were treated to a thrilling five-set final, which saw the match swing one way and then another.

Serbia took the first set 27-25, before the Turks levelled by taking the second set 25-21. The pendulum swung back to Serbia, who won set three 25-22, but Turkiye bounced back in set four with their own 25-22 win.

The fifth and final set went 15-13 in Turkiye’s favour, with Cuban-born Turkish player Melissa Vargas scoring match point to secure the Sultans of the Net their historic first-ever European title, to the delight of Turkish fans in the arena and around the world.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led those who congratulated the Sultans on their incredible achievement, as their victory trended worldwide on social media.

Turkiye had enjoyed a strong run to the final of the 2023 Women’s European Volleyball Championship, having topped their Pool C group with a 100 percent record after beating five teams: Sweden (3-0), Azerbaijan (3-0), Czech Republic (3-1), Greece (3-0), and Germany (3-0).

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The Sultans then cruised through the knockout stages, scoring victories against Belgian (3-1) and Poland (3-0), before facing a tough and in-form Italy side in the semi-finals, which they beat 3-2 to set up their date against the reigning world champions.

Vargas, pictured below in knockout round against Belgium and who was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, again played a crucial role in her team’s epic victory by producing 41 points with 38 kills and three aces, in contrast to her Serbian opposite number, Tijana Boskovic, who scored 37 points.

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For Serbia, this was their second successive European final where they finished as runners-up, having previously lost to Italy in the 2021 final.

Earlier in the day, the Netherlands beat the 2021 European Champions Italy in three straight sets (25-23, 28-26, 25-20) to take the bronze medal.

The tournament was co-hosted by four countries: Belgium, Estonia, Germany and Italy.

Turkiye women ranked No. 1 in world volleyball

Victory for the Sultans of the Net at the CEV European Championship confirms their place as the world’s top women’s volleyball nation.

Led by Italian coach Daniele Santarelli since the start of this year, the Turkish national women’s volleyball team won their first big title, the Volleyball Nations League, in July, propelling them to the top of the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Rankings, where they remain.

Countering the homophobic attacks

Sunday’s gold medal victory also silenced the homophobic campaign against the one of the women’s team’s biggest stars, Ebrar Karakurt.

Religious fundamentalists in Turkiye have lashed out at Karakurt for being gay, with the number of nasty bigoted posts by Islamists on social media intensifying during the European Championships.

“We are tired of this person [Karakurt] casting a shadow over our national achievements. If I had one vote, I would use it to remove this person from the national team,” Mucahit Birinci, a board member of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, AKP, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

There have been misogynistic posts too, with the team condemned for wearing uniforms deemed not acceptable in Islam.


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A post shared by Ebrar Karakurt (@ebrarkarakurt18)

An emotional Karakurt, who was filmed crying during the trophy ceremony at the end of Sunday’s final, had previously responded to internet trolls. She opted for a simple message on social media after the final: “This is how I hug everyone. Uniting we will win, not dividing”, shown together with a picture of her outstretched arms at the arena after the match.

And in another strong rebuttal of the bigots, many hijabi Turkish women armed with Turkish flags took to the streets in Istanbul and other cities across Turkiye to celebrate the new European champions.

The Turkish women’s volleball team players dedicated their victory to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded modern-day Turkiye as a secular and democratic republic in 1923.

“In the 100th anniversary of our Republic, we first won the League of Nations, then became European Champions. We wrote an incredible story. I’m happy, I’m proud!,” said team captain Eda Erdem after Sunday’s final.


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A post shared by Eda Erdem (@edaerdem14)