Maxim Mikhaylov (left) and Matthew Anderson (centre) are one of the stars that will spearhead their respective squads in the FIVB Volleyball World League
Krakow, Poland, April 16, 2016 – Russia’s Zenit Kazan defeated Poland’s Asseco Resovia Rzeszow 3-1 (22-25, 26-24, 25-18, 25-21), while Italy’s Trentino Diatec trounced arch-rivals Cucine Lube Civitanova 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-18) in the semifinals of the 2016 CEV Volleyball Champions League at Tauron Arena on Saturday.
The competition became a melting pot of men's volleyball elite, as Russian star Maxim Mikhaylov, USA's Matthew Anderson and Micah Christenson, Poland's Bartosz Kurek, Argentina's Sebastian Sole among others are defending their respective teams in the premier European club competition. After this affair, these gentlemen will suit up for their national teams in the FIVB Volleyball World League.
On Sunday, Zenit Kazan or Trentino Diatec will vie for what would be an all-time record of a fourth Champions League title. Zenit Kazan previously claimed the titles in 2008, 2012 and 2015. A victory will also extend Russia’s supremacy in the competition to five years in a row. The Italian club, on the other hand, previously won the titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The semifinal match of Zenit Kazan and Asseco Resovia Rzeszow added yet another chapter to the Russia-Poland rivalry with the hosts hoping to make amends for the straight-set loss they had suffered in last year’s gold medal match at Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin.
Zenit Kazan caught a difficult start to their semifinal match, as they struggled for almost one set and a half before their coach Vladimir Alekno made a key substitution that changed the outcome of the match. Alekno replaced starting setter Alexander Butko with Igor Kobzar that gave edge to the Russian side over the host squad.
Asseco Resovia Rzeszow did not disappoint their home fans, as they came started aggressively in the first set. The hosts also kept Zenit Kazan’s strong hitters Wilfredo Leon and Maxim Mikhaylov in check to claim the opening set 25-22. Asseco Resovia Rzeszow rode on their momentum from their first set victory to the second set, but the entry of setter Kobzar helped Zenit Kazan to get back in the game. Kobzar dished out to its top gunners, who both delivered winners to seize the tight second set 26-24. Zenit Kazan seemed to have shifted gears and dominated their rivals in the third frame 25-18 until they sealed set and match victory at 25-21 from Leon’s attack.
“We made eight service errors in the first set, which means that one of our main weapons did not work at all,” Zenit Kazan coach Alekno said. “My players got afraid of making mistakes and so the same error was repeated time and again. However, we have to understand that it is not easy to adjust to this huge hall, where we had only one and a half training sessions. On top of this, the atmosphere that surrounded the match did also help the home team. As for our overall performance, I am not too happy with it.”
“We controlled the match at the beginning, but then the match was on Zenit’s side,” Asseco Resovia Rzeszow star Bartosz Kurek said. “In the fourth set we played more point-by-point, but skills of individual players decided about their advantage in the end. It would be nice to finish the competition with a victory and reward our fans at least with the bronze medal. I can assure them that we won’t give up, just like we tried today. We didn’t win, but we were not afraid to face Zenit Kazan and I think this attitude will be beneficial tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, in the second semifinal match, Trentino Diatec prevailed over Cucine Lube Civitanova in the Italian derby. Both squads crossed paths for the fourth time this season with Trentino Diatec having the 2-1 win-loss edge over their rivals.
Trentino Diatec trailed Cucine Lube Civitanova in the first set, but fought back to level the score at 10-all until they found their rhythm and secured the opening set 25-19. In the second set, Trentino Diatec kept pace of their star-studded rivals, through their own stars Mitar Tzourits and their young setter Simone Gianelli. Tzourits and Gianelli’s performances in the second set helped their team to earn a 25-20 victory. Trentino continued to show consistency in the third set and led 8-3 in the first technical timeout. The match-up became a one-sided affair, as Cucine Lube Civitanova could not find a solution to Trentino Diatec’s outpour of attacks and conceded set and match 25-18.
“We did not start in the best way and made a number of mistakes, but we rose to the occasion and played with a lot of focus, showing a lot of determination. Trentino Diatec outside spiker Tine Urnaut. “I am overwhelmed with joy and extremely happy with this victory. We executed our game plan closely to perfection. Tomorrow Zenit Kazan will be starting as the favourites, like Lube did today, but we are determined to make it through to the end and win the cup.”
“I wish I could say that we presented our opponent with this victory, but they played much better than we did in all aspects of the game, Cucine Lube Civitanova captain Ivan Miljkovic said. “We tried to fight as much as we could, but we found ourselves standing in front of a wall and we did not find a way to break through.”
• CEV Champions League
• FIVB Volleyball World League 2016