Göteborg, Sweden, April 16, 2017. The stands were crowded from the very start of the final day at the CEV Satellite in Göteborg, and the four teams still in the tournament could not have hoped for better settings. France’s rising Beach Volleyball stars Arnaud Loiseau/Arnaud Gauthier-Rat stood on top of the podium in the end after starting their tournament from the qualification round on Thursday. Russia’s Alexander Likholetov and Ilya Leshukov settled for the silver, with Turkey’s Murat Giginoglu/Safa Urlu completing the podium.
Russia’s Alexander Likholetov/Ilya Leshukov had swept through the previous days only losing one set since the start of their campaign in Göteborg. The last obstacle on their way to the finals were Turkey's Murat Giginoglu/Safa Urlu. The Turks were not going to give in easily, and they took home the first set by a close win 27-25. Realising that they needed to play at another level to reach the finals, Likholetov/Leshukov took to the court for the second set as a new team. Quickly rushing away to an early lead, there was no question this game was going to three sets. Big blocker Likholetov forced the Turkish team to fight for every point, and quick defender Leshukov sent imposing float serves their way at every opportunity. The final score for the second set was an impressive 21-12. Giginoglu/Urlu desperately tried to fight their way back into the game, but the Russians never let go. Leshukov’s serves paved the way towards the final 15-9.
In the second semi, the odds were greatly in favour for the German team Sebastian Fuchs/Eric Stadie, having played untouchably all weekend and not losing a single set. On the other side of the net stood Arnaud Loiseau/Arnaud Gauthier-Rat from France. Not impressed by the merits of the Germans, the French team played without any respect. In the first set, the German power-engine showed the audience that they deserved their place in the finals by winning 22-20. Prospects looked dire for the French team, but grabbing a small advantage in the second set got their hopes up. Fuchs/Stadie crept gradually closer, but Loiseau/Gauthier-Rat managed to close the set 21-19. The third set went back and forth, as the two teams gave their best to earn their way to the finals. Long rallies made the crowd sweat, and both teams provided fuel for the extensive cheering from the stands. Once again, France’s scary float serves saved them, as Loiseau’s serve landed on the German base line, bringing them the set 17-15. A little surprisingly, Loiseau/Gauthier-Rat won their chance of fighting for the gold medal.
The bronze medal match became yet another nail biter of a game. Germany’s Fuchs/Stadie won the first set 21-17, but the Turks were not likely to surrender. Turkish defender Urlu disturbed the German rhythm with a couple of big digs, and brought Turkey back into the game. The second set ended 21-16 in favour of Giginoglu/Urlu. The third set featured many long rallies and hard spikes. The crowd loved what they saw as the set draw to an exciting end. Finally, the Turks showed the better nerves as they snuck out the win 17-15.
The final game of the tournament, the Gold Medal match, started with the French team quickly grabbing the initiative. Going after tall blocker Likholetov with nasty serves, France never let the Russians find their game in the first set. When entering the court for the second set, Loiseau/Gauthier-Rat brought a 21-13 win from the previous set. Once again gaining an early advantage, the French youngsters could feel the scent of gold. For a moment, it seemed that the Russians drew closer, but it was no more than a death rattle from the despairing Likholetov/Leshukov. Likholetov struggled with a hurt elbow, and the French team finished the game convincingly by taking home the second set 21-15.
After the game, the French players received love and appreciation from the audience, and they returned the favour by signing autographs and distributing hugs. “It feels unbelievably good. We are so happy, yet so tired right now. It has been extremely tough to play all these long games, and we would not have been able to do it without the audience,” said Arnaud Gauthier-Rat. “Our objective was to qualify for the main draw, and everything beyond that was a bonus. We could play without pressure. This is our first international win,” Arnaud Loiseau continued. “Our key to success was to keep putting pressure on the opponents with tough float serves, as we know they are extra efficient indoors. We also knew that if we could receive well enough, that would help tremendously. Our serving and receiving was what brought us the gold today.”
After four days of competition, the organisers in Göteborg can look back at a successful event that will not soon be forgotten.
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