Russia come from behind to secure place in final and ticket to Japan
2016 European Olympic Qualification - Men
Berlin, Germany, January 9, 2016. Olympic champions Russia upset a 6,900-strong home crowd at Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin with a 3-1 win (31-33, 25-22, 25-19, 26-24) over hosts Germany. Russia rose to the occasion to claim the first semi-final of the men’s European Olympic Qualifier in Germany’s capital. As a result, they have at least secured their participation in the World Olympic Qualification Tournament that will be taking place in June in Japan. The gold medallists from London 2012 will nevertheless try to progress directly to Rio 2016 on Sunday when they play France or Poland in the final of what has been an exciting tournament so far. Germany’s dreams of competing at the Olympics are still alive and on Sunday the hosts will be trying to use the home advantage to finish at least third in the competition and claim a ticket to Japan.
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Germany vs. Russia 1-3 (33-31, 22-25, 19-25, 24-26)
Germany and Russia had played two friendly matches shortly before the start of the men’s Olympic Qualifier and both ended in 3-1 wins for the Olympic champions. However, Germany’s superstar György Grozer was not in the squad for the two friendlies played at Kienbaum as he came back home from Korea only on December 30 and so – as Russia’s legend Sergey Tetyukhin had predicted – this semi-final was going to be a totally different story.
After resting his starting players in Friday’s last pool match with Poland, Vital Heynen decided to play it safe with all the big guns joining the action from the start and the fans at Max-Schmeling-Halle got something to celebrate early in the first set when the hosts claimed a long and exciting rally to lead 7-4. Russia seemed to struggle to keep the pace of their opponents (12-7) but scored four in a row to reduce their gap as their rising star Egor Kliuka’s floating serves seemed too hot to handle for Germany’s receivers (12-11). Russia completed their comeback levelling the score at 14-all and at 18-18 the supporters could sense that an exciting final rush was about to follow. Denys Kaliberda spiked off the bounds to set up Russia’s first lead in the set at 21-20 but Germany fought back and prompted a Russian time-out after edging ahead again at 23-22. Kaliberda made amends for his previous mistake to claim Germany’s first opportunity to win the opening set but the only 20-year old Kliuka fended it off. The youngest player in the Russian squad cancelled also a second set point for Germany, a successful video challenge turned a Russian set ball into the fifth German chance to win the set, but the drama continued up until Alexander Volkov’s mistake gave the hosts a hard-fought 33-31 win on their seventh set point.
A close race to secure at least a ticket to the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan continued in the second set where Russia set the pace in the early stages leading by three points at the first technical time-out. Germany trailed most of the time until they closed in at 14-all and edged ahead on a block by the towering 211-cm tall Marcus Böhme. The hosts slowly but surely imposed their supremacy (19-16) but the Olympic champions were not willing to go down by two sets to none and with some of their substitutes joining the action, they stormed back to make it all even again at 19-all. Russia’s block started working better and better and even though it looked like another close ending was in sight, this time Russia sped up and cashed their first set ball with a massive triple block (25-22).
Russia continued to play well in the third set (8-4) and delivered by far their best performance in the tournament so far. A six-point lead after the second technical time-out (18-12) was enough for the Olympic champions to further cement their control over the game, with the evergreen Sergey Tetyukhin chiefly contributing to the Sbornaya’s success in this set. Germany, on the other hand, lacked the consistency they had showed in the previous sets and their mistakes – including a final one by Grozer – paved the way towards Russia’s 25-19 convincing win.
The 6,900 fans in attendance were invited to step up their efforts in order to support the hosts’ attempt to deliver a comeback in a match which had turned into an uphill climb for Team Germany. Heynen replaced Grozer with youngster Simon Hirsch who has been playing in the highly competitive Italian national league this season, and it had an effect with Germany leading by one point at the first technical time-out. Maxim Mikhailov showed glimpses of his class and Russia edged ahead by two at 16-14, casting a shadow over Germany’s chances of success in the game. At this point Grozer was back in action and briefly rose to the occasion, as his ace prompted a Russian time-out at 18-all. The hope of a German comeback seemed to be short-lived as Russia scored three in a row with their rising star Egor Kliuka leaving his mark. However, the hosts performed an incredible comeback to draw level at 22-22 and the fans were standing on their feet as the set entered its final stages. Volleyball legend Tetyukhin piled up Russia’s first match ball at the end of a rally where the supporters hold their breath; Grozer fended it off with his trademark crosscourt spike, but the ‘Hammerschorsch’ was blocked a few moments later much to the disappointment of the crowd as Russia sealed their 3-1 win.
Russia coach Vladimir Alekno paid tribute to one player in his post-match statement: “Once again, as he did many times already throughout his career, Sergey Tetyukhin was the man of the match. We are grateful to him and could never thank him enough for what he has done for Russian volleyball.”
Germany coach Vital Heynen said: “If all players on our team play their best, we can beat the Olympic champions. If this does not happen, it becomes very difficult for us. This is not a problem, as such things happen in sport. We made a way too many mistakes and this is something you simply can’t afford when playing a team like Russia. We have 18 hours to reset and play the small final. It’s about all or nothing.”
Setter Lukas Kampa added: “I am very disappointed since we had a real chance of making the final. We did not make it happen and deservedly lost this match. Russia made it difficult for us and we were made work hard for every point. Our service was key to this loss, as we made too many mistakes. We now have to mobilise all our forces for tomorrow.”