Date: 12 May 2018, 19:00
Source: CEV
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Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA to play for #CLVolleyM crown for first time since 2002

Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA and Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE opened the Final Four weekend at Basket-Hall in Kazan on Saturday afternoon with a much anticipated semi-final featuring the 2017 Italian and Polish national champions. With Lube vying for their first appearance in a CL gold medal match since they won the title in 2002 and Zaksa trying to improve on their bronze medal from 2003, the fans witnessed a classy Volleyball show – with Lube producing a 3-1 victory (25-21, 22-25, 25-15, 25-18) to progress to the ‘grand finale’ of the competition. CIVITANOVA will challenge there the winners of the ‘Clash of the Titans’ featuring titleholders and hosts Zenit KAZAN vs. last year’s silver medal winners Sir Colussi Sicoma PERUGIA.  

The first semi-final was a repeat of the match Cucine Lube and Zaksa played in the pool stage of the FIVB Men’s Club World Championship back in December – which ended in a 3-2 hard-fought victory for CIVITANOVA. The fans could therefore expect another close battle, especially knowing that both teams were hoping to make amends for the setback they had just suffered in their respective national league finals.

Cucine Lube were off to a flying start (6-2), which resulted in an early timeout for Zaksa’s coach Andrea Gardini. The break did not help much as Osmany Juantorena aced to cash another point for CIVITANOVA, with Maurice Torres being the only player of Zaksa capable of scoring and putting up a real fight at this stage. The first set soon seemed to turn into a one-sided affair (11-4) before Zaksa fought back with the help of Torres and Sam Deroo, thus reducing their deficit to three points at 14-11. The mouth-watering Volleyball show the fans hoped to witness eventually materialised after the second technical timeout and especially as Zaksa levelled the score for the first time at 21-all. Despite a controversial challenge, Cucine Lube were able to regroup and eventually secured the first set with four points in a row, with Jiri Kovar sealing the final 25-21.    

The early stages of the second set were just the continuation of that same trend, this time with the teams exchanging the lead back and forth. The game developed into the type of classy duel you would expect from a Champions League semi-final with Zaksa holding a small advantage going into the ‘money time’ (19-17, 21-18). Torres lived up to his status as second best scorer in this year’s Champions League to take his side by the hand (24-21) before Rafal Szymura levelled the match (25-21).

Cucine Lube found back their A-game to storm to a comprehensive 6-2 lead in the third set and despite Zaksa’s attempts at a comeback CIVITANOVA set the tempo of the game for the remainder of this period (16-9) as they put a lot of pressure with their mighty serves. Their dominance became obvious towards the end of the set (19-11) when they used some of their second lines as well, a move that did not prevent the Italian powerhouse from recording a compelling 25-15 win.

Their high-intensity service game remained one of the main assets the Italians could rely on in the fourth set as well – and by the score of 10-6 in their favour, Osmany Juantorena & Co. seemed to have set their sights on the finish line and on a spot in the gold medal match as well. Zaksa fought their way back to 11-10 but Lube responded with another run of their own (15-11) to cement their status of leading side in this fixture. They would not relinquish it until the end – with Tsvetan Sokolov finishing it off at 25-18 to make sure Cucine Lube have made it to the very last act of every competition they have contested this season.