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20/01/2020 11:00
Champions League pool stage set to heat up as second half gets underway
CEV Champions League Volley 2020

Luxembourg, January 20, 2020.  With the second half of the pool stage next on the agenda of the CEV Champions League Volley 2020 - Women, the eager fans are already anticipating some answers as to which teams will advance to the quarterfinals or which ones have fallen out of contention to start crawling in with the outcome of this week’s fourth-leg games. One such answer may come around in Pool A, where Poland’s Budowlani ŁÓDŹ desperately need to win over visiting Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL from Turkey in Wednesday’s game, selected Match of the Week.

Budowlani are currently third in the Pool A standings, on a 1-2 win-loss record and four points behind second-placed Fenerbahce (2-1). As the two sides meet on Wednesday at 18:00 local time in Lodz, should the Turkish team win by 3-0 or 3-1, the Polish squad will be left with no further shot at making the quarterfinals.

• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL defeated Budowlani LÓDZ 3-0 in their Champions League meeting in Istanbul on November 28, 2019. This was their first Champions League meeting.
• Brankica Mihajlovic (16), Melissa Teresa Vargas Abreu (16) and Kelsey Robinson (12) all reached double figures in points for Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL in that match. Anastasiia Kraiduba (11) was the only player to score at least 10 points for Budowlani LÓDZ.
• Budowlani LÓDZ are winless in their Champions League matches against Turkish opposition (W0-L6). They suffered four straight-set defeats and only won sets against VakifBank ISTANBUL on January 10, 2018 and Galatasaray SK ISTANBUL on February 6, 2018 (both 1-3 defeats).
• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL only lost their first two Champions League matches versus teams from Poland, 0-3 at home and 2-3 away against Winiary Bakalland KALISZ in 2007/2008. Since then, they have won each of their 11 Champions League meetings with Polish sides.

Budowlani LÓDZ
• Budowlani LÓDZ are competing in their fourth Champions League campaign. They have never survived the pool phase.
• This season, Budowlani LÓDZ won their opening match 3-1 against LP SALO, before losing consecutively to Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL (0-3) and Eczacibasi VitrA ISTANBUL (0-3).
• Budowlani LÓDZ have won each of their last six Champions League matches in which they won the opening set.
• Budowlani LÓDZ won all three of their five-setters in the Champions League.
• Anastasiia Kraiduba (36) has won the most points for Budowlani LÓDZ this Champions League season, despite playing in only two of the three matches.
• Julia Twardowska (36.36%) has one of the highest blocker efficiencies in the fourth round.
• Coming into the fourth leg, Charlotte Leys (12.20%) has the highest server efficiency of all players in the fourth round.

Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL
• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL claimed five podiums in the Champions League, including winning the title in 2011/2012. Three teams have collected more Champions League podiums: VakifBank ISTANBUL (8), Volley BERGAMO (7) and RC CANNES (6).
• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL started their 2019/2020 Champions League campaign with a 2-3 defeat against Eczacibasi VitrA ISTANBUL, before claiming successive wins over Budowlani LÓDZ (3-0) and LP SALO (3-0).
• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL have lost five of their last six five-setters in the Champions League, only winning in five sets against Savino Del Bene SCANDICCI in last season's quarterfinals.
• Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL have won nine of their last 10 Champions League matches in which they won the opening set. The only exception was a 2-3 defeat against Dinamo MOSCOW in last year's fourth round.
• Brankica Mihajlovic and Kelsey Robinson have won 43 points each for Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL this Champions League campaign, most for the team.
• Naz Aydemir Akyol (41.98% efficiency) is among the best setters in the fourth round.

Jaroslava Pencova, middle blocker of Budowlani LÓDZ: “We know they have a very good team and we know they are stronger than us, but we worked really hard during the winter break and we can show in this game how we have improved as a team. For sure we always want to win, but this game and our performance are also important for the rest of the season, and for the most important part of season. So we are really looking forward to it.”

Maria Stenzel, libero of Budowlani LÓDZ: “It will be hard, but we will fight. Dreams come true.”

Naz Aydemir Akyol, setter of Fenerbahce Opet:
“We will play three very important matches in the Champions League. It is very important to finish the group as the eventual leaders because only two of the runners-up across all pools will progress to the quarterfinals. We want to make sure that this happens by winning the away match in Poland.”
Fatma Yildirim, outside hitter of Fenerbahce Opet:
“We won the first game with Budowlani at home, now we will play away. I think the away match will be tougher than the previous one. We take this match very seriously because this game is important for the final standing in the pool. We started the second half of the season well. We want to continue in the very same way.”

Also on Wednesday, at 17:30 local time in Turkey, unbeaten Eczacibasi VitrA ISTANBUL entertain winless LP SALO of Finland, hoping for another clean-slate victory over this opponent to get another step closer to the quarterfinals. With Serbian star Tijana Boskovic exploding for 18 points, Eczacibasi VitrA made a good start of the second half in the Turkish league regular season, a solid win over Beylikduzu Voleybol ISTANBUL on Sunday.

Simge Şebnem Aköz, libero of Eczacibasi:
“First of all, I am very excited to be back with my team. My teammates prepared very well during the season break. We are focused on delivering a good team performance after the break and as a result of that, on continuing our Champions League journey with another good result.”

Anu Ennok, outside hitter of LP SALO:
“We will play the second game against Eczacibasi. Of course, it is always a bit harder because both teams can analyse the first game and apply the necessary corrections. We are facing one of the top teams in the world and we are ready to give them a fight. For us the most important thing is to find our own game and try to show the best volleyball we can.”

Russia’s Champions League rookies Lokomotiv KALININGRAD Region have already suffered a couple of defeats in Pool B, hence they need to get back on the winning track in Wednesday’s home match (19:00 local time at Yantarny hall) against undefeated Savino Del Bene SCANDICCI of Italy. Such an outcome would really tighten the intrigue ahead of the last two legs in the pool. Otherwise, it will pretty much be just a two-way race between the Italians and VakifBank ISTANBUL (currently on 2-1) for the first place. This week, the Turkish powerhouse - four-time winners of the competition with a record of 145 wins in 200 #CLVolleyW matches this far - is set to welcome winless Nova KBM Branik MARIBOR of Slovenia on Thursday at 19:00 local time.

Giovanni Guidetti, head coach of VakifBank, who has a record of 434 wins in 511 matches at the helm of the team:
“We are at a point where we should not lose any more points in the Champions League. That is why the Maribor match is so important because we currently sit in second place in the pool. We want to secure our spot in the next round. Therefore, we have to do everything we can to finish first. For this, we must take maximum points from the match with MARIBOR and then focus on the match with SCANDICCI.”

Melis Gürkaynak, team captain of VakifBank:
“We took a break after the first half of the season. Now we will play against MARIBOR in the Champions League. We know that we have to be careful, as we will play a Champions League match after a long time. They [MARIBOR] defend very well. We know that we need to pay attention and remain focussed. I hope it will be a good match.”

Gabriela ‘Gabi’ Guimaraes, spiker of VakifBank: “The second half of the Champions League is very important to us. We want to advance to the next round. Of course, all matches will be very challenging. We look forward to doing our best. After the Club World Championship in China, we improved our game and became a real family. We work hard every day to improve our game. We are ready for the Champions League and we are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.”

In the second leg, Savino Del Bene managed a 3-1 home victory over Lokomotiv, while VakifBank mastered a straight-set win in Maribor.

The fourth leg will not be able to provide any definitive answers in Pool C, where three teams are in a tight race for the top, each on a 2-1 win-loss record. Defending champions Igor Gorgonzola NOVARA (5 points) of Italy will try to take revenge for their four-set defeat at Allianz MTV STUTTGART (7 points) in the second leg as they entertain Krystal Rivers, the best scorer and the best spiker of the pool stage so far, and her teammates of the German side in this competition week’s closing match, on Thursday at 20:30 local time in Novara. 2,000 people are expected to attend the game as some special promotions were realised by the home club for students from local schools and university. The interest is further sparked by Igor Gorgonzola’s six-match winning streak (Champions League and domestic league combined) and by setter Micha Hancock’s recent all-time-record of 10 aces in a single Italian national league game, the 3-1 home victory over Bosca S. Bernardo Cuneo last Wednesday. In the meantime, 23-year-old US international Simone Lee, playing as outside spiker, has joined Allianz MTV STUTTGART and is set to reinforce the German squad as they travel to Italy this week. With main setter Pia Kästner still recovering from a long-lasting injury, the club has extended their contract with American playmaker Ainise Havili.

Ioannis Athanasopoulos, head coach of Allianz MTV STUTTGART: "We are all very excited to play in Novara. Igor Gorgonzola is playing on a very high level and we need to show our best Volleyball if we want to have any chance against them. Really important for the game will be the serve reception from both teams and we will focus a lot on this."

Juliet Lohuis, middle blocker of Allianz MTV STUTTGART: "This is my first year in the Champions League and I am very proud of it. I always watched all the matches and now I am finally part of it and able to compete with the best teams in the world. I am totally aware of how special it is to compete at this level. I have international experience with the national team, but the Champions League is a totally different story and I really look forward to our trip to Italy."

Earlier that day, at 18:00 local time in Poland, ŁKS Commercecon ŁÓDŹ (5 points) welcome Ukraine’s Khimik YUZHNY, who have yet to claim their first victory in the pool. The first game between these two sides, played in Yuzhny in late November, finished 3-2 in favour of the Polish squad.

In the previous leg, C.S.M. Volei Alba BLAJ scored their first win in Pool D, 3-1 away at Vasas Óbuda BUDAPEST, but their trip away from home this week should be way more difficult as the Romanians visit reigning club world champions A. Carraro Imoco CONEGLIANO in Italy on Wednesday at 20:30 local time. Imoco have secured three victories in three pool matches so far, including a 3-0 win at Alba in the second leg.

Last week Miriam Sylla and Raphaela Folie returned to the court for Imoco after a month of absence due to injury. After the break due to the Olympic qualifiers in late December / early January, Imoco resumed their journey in the Italian national league with two straight victories, dropping only one set in the process, to cement their leadership in the competition.

Miriam Sylla, outside hitter of A. Carraro Imoco CONEGLIANO:
“The second phase of the season has started for us, many important matches await us and the Champions League is one of these goals. We are all in excellent physical shape and all the players of our team are ready; it is important because we are a team where the subs can step in and always deliver a great performance. It will be important to win this home match to keep the first place in the pool.”

In the other Pool D match this week, second-placed NANTES VB (2-1) of France will welcome Hungary’s Vasas, the only winless team in the pool, but also the only one that has managed to take a point away from Imoco. This game’s first whistle will get the Champions League week underway on Tuesday at 19:30 local time at the Mangin Beaulieu in Nantes.

Just one hour later on Tuesday, also in France, unbeaten RC CANNES (8 points), who are also the leaders of the French national league, will play against Russian visitors Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG. Uralochka, who lost the first game between the two teams at home in five sets and currently stand third in Pool E on a 1-2 win-loss record, are in a must-win situation to save a reasonable shot at the next round.

Riccardo Marchesi, head coach of RC CANNES:
“Uralochka’s roster includes many players of a real top international level. Our 3-2 victory in Russia does not mean at all that this will be an easy game for us. Actually, we are expecting a very difficult match, with an opponent that will want to show their actual level, which can be very high. However, our team is complete, consistent, with a good cohesion. We have been working hard and well after the Christmas break and we want to show a good and positive image of us to our fans. So, we are all impatient to see how things will unfold on Tuesday night!”

The other Russian standout in the pool, Dinamo MOSCOW, conceded their first defeat during their visit to Cannes in the previous leg and hope to get back to their winning ways on Thursday at 19:00 Moscow time, when they take on Maritza PLOVDIV. The Bulgarians snatched their first point at their previous visit to Russia, at Ekaterinburg in December, but have yet to earn their first match win.

The men’s Champions League will also offer some playing action this week. In a first-leg game, postponed to Sunday, January 26, at 18:00 local time, reigning world and continental champions Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA and TRENTINO Itas will engage in an all-Italian battle for the top of Pool A. Before their face-to-face encounter in Civitanova Marche, the two teams are on a 2-0 win-loss record each, hoping to stay unbeaten ahead of next week’s fourth leg.

All Champions League games are streamed live on EuroVolleyTV.
For more info on the competition, go to the CEV Champions League Volley 2020 - Women section.

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