Loko express rushes to its final destination by seizing gold after real drama
2013 CEV Volleyball Champions League - Men
Omsk, Russia, March 17, 2013. It was history in the making on Sunday evening at “V. Blinov” sports complex in Omsk where the home heroes of Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK did eventually win the 2013 CEV Volleyball Champions League after a dramatic final that lasted for almost two hours and a half. The “Siberian express” did not find it easy at all but ultimately reached the final station of their journey by edging Bre Banca Lannutti CUNEO of Italy 3:2 (22-25, 26-24, 25-23, 20-25, and 16-14). With this result the club from Siberia’s largest city – that this year had joined Europe’s most prestigious club competition only for the second time in their relatively young history – did also qualify for the 2013 FIVB Club World Championships scheduled for next October. “Loko” is also the third Russian side capable of topping the final standing after their compatriots of Lokomotiv BELGOROD (2003 and 2004) and Zenit KAZAN (2008 and 2012) had also done so. The “blue guys” from the Piedmont region fought bravely from the start up to the very end, could even resist to three match balls in the tie-break but the home heroes did finally have the upper hand for the joy of more than 5,000 fans.
Click here for a comprehensive gallery of the final match as well as of the awards ceremony
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This past December – right upon completion of the League Round – Omsk was announced as venue of this year’s final four and since that day the Volleyball family assembled around Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK had only been waiting for Sunday, March 17, to come hoping to see the “home” heroes fight for the trophy of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
This ultimate dream had come true on Saturday as the “all-Siberian express” edged – a little surprisingly – the compatriots of Zenit KAZAN on their way to the final match. The sports complex named after the late ice hockey star and 1968 Olympic champion Viktor Blinov was sold-out for the much anticipated final act where Russia and Italy – this time represented by Bre Banca Lannutti CUNEO – were going to prolong their long-lasting rivalry in Volleyball.
The guests in blue jerseys were finally joined by some 20 fans who had missed the semis the day before after getting stuck in Moscow for more than 24 hours due to the late arrival of their plane. A small group of “blue brothers” was hence in attendance for the game that counted the most and whereby CUNEO wanted to put the icing on the cake of their first final four appearance.
However, for the side captained by Wout Wijsmans it was not going to be easy to stand the ambiance contributed by more than 5,000 fans of Lokomotiv whose only goal was to boost their heroes on their way to become Russia’s third team – after Lokomotiv BELGOROD and Zenit KAZAN – capable of topping the charts of the Champions League. Strong nerves were required in what was the most important game of the season and CUNEO did not tremble in the early phases of the game (5:3); Sweden’s Marcus Nilsson eventually flipped the charts around for the hosts (8:7) calling for the first mandatory stop but it was still a long way to go as Bre Banca Lannutti responded immediately with Frenchman Earvin Ngapeth bringing his side back to the front (9:8). The Italians had once more opted for a starting six that all Volleyball fans have got used to – with Mastrangelo out of the group, Tsvetan Sokolov was moved to the middle already a couple of months ago while Russian-born Oleg Antonov plays as opposite – so this definitely did not surprise the coach and scout-men of Lokomotiv.
Both teams successfully completed their side-outs until a block-out on Antonov contributed a margin of two for CUNEO before the second technical time-out where the score stood at 16:13 for the guests. The speaker and the fans never stopped cheering on their guys, and “Loko” responded by attempting a comeback (from 19:15 to 19:17) that forced CUNEO mentor Roberto Piazza into a time-out. Nilsson exploited his skills from the serving line to cut the gap to a minimum (20:19) but Wijsmans answered back for the 21:19. The Italians eventually got a couple of set balls at 24:22 and they immediately cashed the first set with an ace by their setter, evergreen Nikola Grbic, the oldest player on court (39).
After conceding the first couple of points to their opponents, the players of Lokomotiv got back on track (3:2) and another neck-to-neck race unfolded until Denis Biryukov surprised the Italian defence line with a float serve (6:4). Antonov brought back equality on the score (7 all) and once more – similarly to what had happened in the first set – neither team could break away. With Sokolov literally on fire CUNEO returned to the front at 12:11 but this lasted only for a short while as Divis brought a long and exciting rally to a happy end for the home side to call for the second technical time-out where Lokomotiv was leading the way at 16:14. The fans were getting ready for another close final rush where a few actions would have determined the fate of the set. Probably in an attempt to calm his guys a bit down – they had shown a lack of consistency from the serving line – Piazza stopped the game as CUNEO was trailing 19:21, and Grbic made the impossible out of a bad reception to score directly on his second touch. Equality was restored at 21 as Lokomotiv Alexander Gutsalyuk missed the right tempo on the ball set by his captain Alexander Butko. The Siberian train found back its original speed with Nilsson and a contested block moving the score up to 23:21 but CUNEO fired back once more to level at 23. Lokomotiv got a first set ball on a point claimed by Lukas Divis, Wijsmans forced his opponents into a block-out, Biryukov pocketed the next opportunity for the 1:1, and Nilsson eventually brought it home by finding a way through the Italian block on his second attempt (26-24).
The plot of the story did not change much in the early phases of the third set (3:3) but “Loko” was able to claim a positive break (8:5) that evidently contributed even more excitement on the stands. The small Italian crew – uniformly dressed in blue – tried to push Wijsmans & Co. with their megaphones as NOVOSIBIRSK was definitely stepping up the quality of their play, especially in blocking (10:6). Bre Banca Lannutti responded to the call of their fans making it 10:9 but too many mistakes from the serving line made it difficult for CUNEO to draw level. The second mandatory stop was called by the score of 16:14 for Lokomotiv and that small cushion was widened up to three points (18:15) as Biryukov blocked Ngapeth.
The experienced and always reliable duo composed of Grbic and Wijsmans re-opened the door for CUNEO (20:19) but the Italians continued to produce errors from the serving area and an ace by Biryukov (22:19) seemed to put an end to the Italian hopes. Still a way too early to say the final word as CUNEO clawed back to -1 (22:21), “Loko” got the next rally but Grbic showed another glimpse of his class to spike – yes, to spike – for the 23:22. Gutsalyuk piled up a couple of set balls for Siberia’s heroes and after missing on a first opportunity, Nilsson finished it off at 25-23.
Rushing to a 6:3 lead in the fourth set, Lokomotiv was flying high but Bre Banca Lannutti was able to claw back and flip the tables around going up 14:11; with their always excellent play-maker, Nikola Grbic, teaching the ABC of elite Volleyball to any youngster, CUNEO did an excellent job especially in offense to keep a margin of two up to three points that left the door open for a possible tie-break (21:18). In comparison with the previous set, the guys from the Piedmont region were performing strongly from the serving line and a fifth set was ultimately to be played as Nilsson presented his opponents with their last point with a serving error (25-20).
An already memorable Volleyball weekend was hence ending the best possible way, i.e. with a tie-break supposed to contribute a real climax of emotions. After a very close start, “Loko” was the first side to move to the front with a mini-break of two points (5:3) but CUNEO did not lose composure to make it 5 all. Helped by Nilsson and Divis, Lokomotiv switched sides of the court by leading 8:6 and a block by Gutsalyuk on Sokolov, widened the margin a little more and – at the same time – prompted a first start of the home celebrations on the stands. Was it premature? Wijsmans never stopped inciting his teammates and Antonov showed he had well received the message by blocking for the 10:9. Slovak middle blocker Emanuel Kohut contributed the 10 all before Biryukov restored the Siberian lead. Ngapeth fired a real missile from the back row (11:11), before Lokomotiv scored the next two points (13:11) to see CUNEO ask for their last time-out of the match. It did not work as Biryukov ended a long rally with a terrific crosscourt to call for three match balls; the fans were standing on their feet waiting for the party to start, but Nilsson served long before Wijsmans aced for the 14:13 and a triple block on Biryukov made it 14 all. The Russian outside hitter - top scorer in the end with 23 points - compensated for that by scoring the next point and as Ngapeth was blocked, the Siberian party could finally start.
1. Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK (RUS)
2. Bre Banca Lannutti CUNEO (ITA)
3. Zenit KAZAN (RUS)
4. Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE (POL)
MVP: Marcus Nilsson (SWE/Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK)
Best Scorer: Marcus Nilsson (SWE/Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK)
Best Spiker: Antonin Rouzier (FRA/Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE)
Best Blocker: David Lee (USA/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Server: Luis Felipe Fonteles (BRA/Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE)
Best Receiver: Yury Berezhko (RUS/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Setter: Alexander Butko (RUS/Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK)
Best libero: Daniele De Pandis (ITA/Bre Banca Lannutti CUNEO)
List of winners
2001: PARIS Volley (FRA)
2002: Lube Banca Marche MACERATA (ITA)
2003: Lokomotiv BELGOROD (RUS)
2004: Lokomotiv BELGOROD (RUS)
2005: TOURS VB (FRA)
2006: Sisley TREVISO (ITA)
2007: VfB FRIEDRICHSHAFEN (GER)
2008: Dinamo-Tattransgaz KAZAN (RUS)
2009: TRENTINO Volley (ITA)
2010: TRENTINO BetClic (ITA)
2011: TRENTINO BetClic (ITA)
2012: Zenit KAZAN (RUS)
2013: Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK (RUS)