Date: 29 March 2015, 22:46
Source: CEV
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Three is the magic number for Russian armada from Tatarstan!

Though on Saturday they had their share of ups and downs in the semifinal match with hosts BERLIN Recycling Volleys, on their D-Day Zenit KAZAN were able to live up to their status as red-hot favourites for the crown of this year’s CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men. The Tatars cruised to a speedy 3:0 win over Poland’s Asseco Resovia RZESZOW (25-22, 25-23, 25-21) to seize their third title in Europe’s elite competition – they had already topped the charts in 2008 and 2012 – and get the right to compete at this year’s FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship scheduled for late October in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The man of the match – and top scorer with 18 points – was once again the eventual MVP of the Final Four tournament, Cuban-born Wilfredo Leon.

Zenit KAZAN added another chapter to Russia’s supremacy in the competition, with teams from this Volleyball stronghold having swept the last four titles in a row. This is also Russia’s seventh title in 15 years which makes this country the most successful one so far, edging well ahead of Italy that can boast five crowns. Zenit KAZAN is one of only three teams – the others being Belogorie BELGOROD and TRENTINO Volley – having won Europe’s top league for three times.

As for Resovia, they had to be content with silver in their first Final Four appearance, a result which matches what PGE Skra BELCHATOW had achieved in 2012 tying them for the best finish of a Polish team since the CEV Volleyball Champions League was established back in 2000.

Zenit KAZAN had travelled to Germany’s capital regarded as the red-hot favourites to win gold but their opponents were extra motivated by Saturday’s superb performance in the derby with PGE Skra BELCHATOW and willing to cause a sensation in their first Final Four appearance in history. However, Asseco Resovia’s strength was this time to be tested by a much more consistent opponent and indeed the Tatars were those leading the way in the early stages of the match (7:5, 11:8). Their mentor Vladimir Alekno had surprised the audience sticking to his decision taken during Saturday’s semi with the BERLIN Recycling Volleys to replace Iranian star setter Mir Saeid Marouflakrani with Russian youngster Igor Kobzar. The Polish team – whose roster included as many as five gold medallists from last year’s FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship – slowly but surely started their engine and to the delight of their fans, all uniformly dressed in red and white stripes, they eventually edged ahead for the first time at 14:13 prompting a Russian time-out. They extended their lead up to three points (17:14) but the Russian ‘gladiators’ – as the players of Zenit are dubbed by their fans back home – responded well to that challenge with Kobzar restoring the balance at 18 all with an ace. With his parents once again in attendance among the Russian fans, Cuban-born star Wilfredo Leon started his personal show flipping the tables around (22:20) before Zenit’s other superstar, Maxim Mikhailov, scored an ace to get three set balls for his side, with the second cashed on a serving error by Resovia (25-22).

The Russian armada continued to keep the rhythm high also in the opening phase of the second set (6:3) and even though Resovia’s defence line worked pretty well, it was still difficult for the Poles to find a way to stop the always outstanding Leon (9:5). The Cuban wunderkind – now 21 years of age – delighted the audience with some terrific serving recording two aces in a row and Resovia found themselves with their back against the wall (13:7). Their mentor Andrzej Kowal tried to change the course of the game with some substitutions replacing almost half of his initial line-up and he got the desired effects with his team’s gap being reduced down to only one point (15:14). After the score was levelled at 19, Mir Saeid Marouflakrani briefly joined the actions, Leon’s show continued with two straight points and the fans of Zenit KAZAN could bravely display a banner featuring the script ‘Next Victim: Resovia!”. Their heroes were indeed only one set away from a third Champions League crown as the second period of this final match came to an end at 25-23 on a superb block by Nikolay Apalikov.

The match had become a kind of mission impossible for RZESZOW but the team from southern Poland was determined to keep their chances alive, hoping at least to win one set and see what was possibly going to follow. Resovia opened set 3 with a strong 4:0 run and set the tempo of the game until Maxim Mikhailov added a block to his personal tally for the 12 all. The guys in red shirts fought bravely but their team spirit was not enough to stop the march of the Russian armada. Once Leon went behind the service line, it look like the match was practically over and indeed he could help his team move the score up to 23:19. Matthew Anderson contributed four match balls for Zenit and the American spiker who earlier this season had shocked the Volleyball family by announcing the intention to take a break from competitive sport citing person reasons, put the last ball down for the 25-21 that put an end to an exciting season and a historic Final Four.

2015 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men’s Final Four Dream Team:
MVP: Wilfredo Leon (CUB/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Setter: Fabian Drzyzga (POL/Asseco Resovia RZESZOW)
Best Opposite: Maxim Mikhailov (RUS/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Middle Blocker: Piotr Nowakowski (POL/Asseco Resovia RZESZOW)
Second Best Middle Blocker: Rob Bontje (NED/BERLIN Recycling Volleys)
Best Outside Spiker: Wilfredo Leon (CUB/Zenit KAZAN)
Second Best Outside Spiker: Facundo Conte (ARG/PGE Skra BELCHATOW)
Best Libero: Teodor Salparov (BUL/Zenit KAZAN)
Fair Play Award: Scott Touzinsky (USA/BERLIN Recycling Volleys)

Final standing
1. Zenit KAZAN (RUS)
2. Asseco Resovia RZESZOW (POL)
3. BERLIN Recycling Volleys (GER)

Post-match statements

The coach of Asseco Resovia RZESZOW, Andrzej Kowal, commented: “The second place is an amazing result for us even though I am quite understandably a bit sad at this moment after losing the final match. Our way to the Final Four was a difficult one, especially with the Playoffs 6 matches we got to play with Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK. We lost to the best team in Europe and once more tonight they served extremely well. We played well but we could have performed even better, especially in reception. Congratulations to Zenit KAZAN!”

Team captain Lukasz Perlowski added: “We are happy with making this final. Zenit KAZAN was simply the better team today but we came here and played two high-level matches. This is a terrific result for Poland that two teams were here competing in the finals.”

Home star Jochen Schöps said: “Zenit KAZAN was simply better than us today, especially at serving. They put us under a lot of pressure and this way their block dis also work just fine. Our service was not that good and consistent, and in the end they performed better than we did in all fundamentals. Their victory is well deserved. As far as the Final Four is concerned, well, it was just fabulous, especially to get to feel such ambiance here in Germany. I am happy that so many fans from Poland have come to Berlin. We wanted to offer them more than three sets but it just did not happen. Right now we are a bit disappointed but the second place is something truly special for us.”

The mentor of Zenit KAZAN, Vladimir Alekno, commented: “Today it was a very difficult situation for us because once again we were somehow obliged to win as we had travelled to Berlin with this only goal. I would like to thank all fans who have come to the arena this weekend and also the organisers of the Final Four. It has been an amazing and terrific Volleyball weekend.”