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03/02/2020 11:00
All-Russian Match of the Week to tighten Pool E knot
CEV Champions League Volley 2020 - Women

Luxembourg, February 3, 2020.  While in the upcoming fifth leg of the pool stage in the CEV Champions League Volley 2020 - Women, some teams are likely to secure their spots in the quarterfinals, that’s much less the case in the tightest of all, Pool E, where no team is winless and no team is unbeaten and where this leg’s all-Russian Match of the Week between Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG and Dinamo MOSCOW may even tighten things further, rather than deliver answers.

As Uralochka welcome Dinamo at the DIVS in Ekaterinburg on Thursday at 19:00 local time, the two Russian teams are on a 2-2 win-loss record each. The winners of this game will stay well in contention for making the next round, while the losers could potentially drop out. The big news that came from Russia is that the team from Moscow have appointed a new head coach, 56-year-old Zeljko Bulatovic from Serbia.

Head to head
• Dinamo MOSCOW defeated Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG 3-1 in Moscow on November 21, 2019, in their first Champions League meeting.
• Nataliya Goncharova (26) won the most points for the home team, while Kseniia Parubets (21) was top scorer for the visitors.
• Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG have won only one of their five Champions League meetings with Russian opposition: a 3-2 home win against Dinamo KAZAN in the 2018-2019 fourth round.
• Dinamo MOSCOW have won their last three Champions League matches against Russian teams, after winning only one of their first six.
• In the on-going season of the Russian Superliga, Uralochka won 3-1 at Dinamo on October 19, 2019, and Dinamo won 3-1 at Uralochka on December 22, 2019. Three days later, they managed another 3-1 victory over Uralochka in a Russian Cup semifinal. In the current Superliga standings, Uralochka are in third place, while Dinamo are in fifth.

• Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG are appearing in their 11th Champions League campaign. They finished runners-up in 2002-2003 and claimed third place in 2000-2001.
• Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG won their last two Champions League matches, after losing their opening two matches this campaign. The last time they won three successive Champions League matches was in the 2015-2016 league round (four in a row).
• Four of Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG's last five victories in the Champions League came in five sets, including each of their last three.
• Only VakifBank ISTANBUL (23) and Dinamo MOSCOW (16) have won more five-setters in the competition than Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG (14).
• Among all players, Kseniia Parubets (108) has scored the most points in this season's fourth round.
• Daria Chikrizova (43.81%) and Parubets (39.52%) are among the best receivers in the fourth round.
• Only A. Carraro Imoco CONEGLIANO's Paola Ogechi Egonu (10) has more aces in the fourth round than Tatiana Romanova (9).

• Dinamo MOSCOW are the only team to have appeared in each of the last 14 Champions League seasons (since 2006-2007).
• Dinamo MOSCOW's best result in the Champions League are two runners-up finishes, in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009. They won the Champions Cup, predecessor of the Champions League, a record 11 times, but not since the 1976-1977 campaign.
• Dinamo MOSCOW have lost their last two Champions League matches, after opening their campaign with two wins. The last time they lost four successive Champions League matches was in the 2017-2018 fourth round.
• Only VakifBank ISTANBUL (23) have won more five-setters in the competition than Dinamo MOSCOW (16).
• Helena Havelkova (66) is Dinamo MOSCOW's leading scorer this Champions League campaign. Nataliya Goncharova follows on 55 points – but she missed the last match with Maritza PLOVDIV due to illness.
• Irina Fetisova has won 12 points from stuff blocks, at least twice as many as any of her teammates.

Kseniia Parubets, captain of Uralochka-NTMK EKATERINBURG: "We’ll approach the game against Dinamo in a good mood. We have regained our strength and are ready to fight for victory. Of course, special attention should be paid to Nataliya Goncharova, but we must remember that in the last games, when she did not play against us because of health problems, the games were still difficult. With Dinamo, we must always keep our concentration at a high level. The class of this team is always high."

Zeljko Bulatovic, coach of Dinamo MOSCOW: "I don't know why Dinamo lost so much this season. I think we just lost our self-confidence. This is more of a psychological problem than a problem with the quality of Volleyball. Now, of course, there are many important games, one of them is against Uralochka in the Champions League. I'm always an optimist! Among our players the one I am least familiar with is setter Lauren Carlini. After two days, I can say that Lauren trains very well, communicates with the team and, in general, is a very, very positive girl."

It may or may not become easier to make calculations over the final outcome in Pool E on Wednesday evening, after the result of the Maritza PLOVDIV vs. RC CANNES game, starting at 18:30 local time in Europe’s oldest living city, becomes known. On the wings of their historic win at Dinamo MOSCOW a couple of weeks ago, when 18-year-old Aleksandra Milanova top-scored 18 points for Maritza, the Bulgarian champions (on 1-3 win-loss record) still believe in their chances to win the pool and make the quarterfinals. As they welcome their French counterparts and current pool leaders RC CANNES to the Kolodruma, the Yellow-and-Blues from Plovdiv will be keen to take revenge for the 1-3 loss they suffered in France in November. If RC CANNES (3-1) emerge victorious again, they will still have to wait for the outcome of Thursday’s match in Russia or for the last leg in the pool to find out if they have qualified.

Ivan Petkov, coach of Maritza PLOVDIV: “We always eagerly look forward to our Champions League matches and try to prepare in the best possible way. Our next game comes after a big victory which created quite an euphoria not only in Plovdiv, but all over Bulgaria, and I hope that the stands will be full and there will be a great atmosphere which will help the team in this heavy clash. RC CANNES are definitely a good team, with a serious track record in European Volleyball, but we hope to show that we are better with our performance on the court.”

Aleksandra Milanova, outside spiker of Maritza PLOVDIV: “I hope, against RC CANNES, we play another good match. I hope we play together as a team and help each other on the court and if that happens I think that we will have a good performance and come out victorious, because teamwork is definitely our main weapon.”

A huge clash between compatriots is coming up in Pool A as well. If undefeated leaders Eczacibasi VitrA ISTANBUL take another win over Fenerbahce Opet ISTANBUL (3-1) as they “visit” their opponents at the Burhan Felek hall on Thursday at 19:00 local time, they will secure the first place in the final standings and a spot in the quarterfinals. However, the first encounter between the two Turkish giants in November produced a 3-2 victory for Eczacibasi, creating even greater anticipation of the second one this week.

Eda Erdem Dündar, captain of Fenerbahce:
“This match will determine who finishes first in the pool. Eczacibasi have strong and good players. A tough match is awaiting us. We played five sets in the last game with them. We have been working hard, so I hope we will play well and eventually secure first place in the pool.”

Brankica Mihajlovic, player of Fenerbahce:
“A big match is coming up on Thursday. We will play against one of the best teams in Turkey. We remember the last game, which lasted for five sets. Meanwhile, we had some more time to prepare ourselves. We are all looking forward to this game. We have been working hard and feel motivated to show our best.”

In the other Pool A game, LP SALO (0-4) entertain Budowlani ŁÓDŹ (1-3) on Wednesday. Both teams are now out of contention for the top two spots in the table, but despite the absence of injured setter Viktoriia Tuchashvili the hosts are hoping to register Finland’s first-ever victory in the pool stages of the women’s Champions League, following the 16 defeats so far. Budowlani beat LP SALO 3-1 in their first encounter in Poland, their only win in the pool so far. Since the last leg in the competition, the Polish side have lost their Belgian captain Charlotte Leys, who left the club.

Tomi Lemminkäinen, coach of LP SALO: “Our goal is to write some history and take the first Finnish victory in the Champions League pool phase. Budowlani are still the favourites, but playing our good game we will have a fair chance of winning. We all need to put our best in this match. I hope to see a full hall cheering for us.”

Anna Czakan, captain of LP SALO: “We have played against the best in the world during our campaign and I am so proud of our team. We have played without big pressure against great Turkish teams. We have learned a lot and now it is time to show what we have against Budowlani.”

The situation in Pool B is quite similar, with the two remaining contenders for the first place, Italy’s Savino Del Bene SCANDICCI (4-0) and Turkey’s VakifBank ISTANBUL (3-1), facing each other in a fifth-leg duel. The Italians delivered a 3-2 upset of VakifBank when they met in the first leg in Istanbul. As the two meet again on Wednesday at 20:30 local time at the Palaestra in Siena, in Savino Del Bene’s new coach Luca Cristofani’s first home match on the job, another victory for the squad from Scandicci would stamp their ticket to the quarterfinals. A win for the Turkish powerhouse, however, will let the sixth leg be the decider of the first place in the pool with both teams very likely to make the next round. Alexa Gray and Dayana Kosareva are expected to play their first Champions League game with the Savino Del Bene jerseys. Russia’s Lokomotiv KALININGRAD Region (1-3) still have a reasonable shot at the runner-up position in the pool and it goes through a mandatory victory over Nova KBM Branik MARIBOR (0-4) as they play on Tuesday at 18:00 local time in Slovenia. The club from Maribor has announced that they can no longer rely on the services of Lorena Lorber Fijok who will be recovering from a ligament surgery for the rest of this season and has signed American Tessa Grubbs from the University of Tennessee to strengthen their roster.

Over 100 ŁKS Commercecon ŁÓDŹ fans are expected to make their way to the stands of SCHARRena on Wednesday, when at 19:00 local time Germany’s Allianz MTV STUTTGART host their Polish opponents in a key encounter for the final standings in Pool C. Allianz MTV (2-2) have a good opportunity to move higher than the third place they are occupying in the current pool standings by overtaking second-placed ŁKS Commercecon (3-1) with a victory. A win for the Polish side under their new coach Giuseppe Cuccarini, however, would guarantee them a top-two finish and a chance to play for the first place in their last match of the pool.

Ioannis Athanasopoulos, coach of Allianz MTV STUTTGART: "Since the team from Lodz changed their head coach ten days ago we have been analysing whether there are any new aspects to their game. On the other hand, we saw what we have to work on ourselves to deliver a better performance. In general, with our new player Simone Lee practicing only once as an opposite, she did very well in our last domestic match and I hope we can successfully continue our trip in the Champions League."

Kim Renkema, sports director of Allianz MTV STUTTGART: "This match is going to be the most important one in Pool C for us. We need three points to qualify for the quarterfinals, but we are aware of this challenging task. ŁKS Commercecon are not the Polish champions without a reason.”

Defending continental champions and pool leaders Igor Gorgonzola NOVARA (3-1) of Italy will make their first trip to Ukraine, where on Tuesday at 18:00 local time they will open this week’s Champions League action with a game against hosts Khimik YUZHNY (0-4). Igor Gorgonzola’s eight-game winning streak was broken by a loss in their national cup quarterfinals, but, on a positive note, the team has recovered from several health problems and travels to Ukraine with 14 fit players on the squad. A three-pointer for the Italians at Khimik would definitely keep them in pole position ahead of their home game with ŁKS Commercecon ŁÓDŹ in the sixth leg.

In Pool D, Romania’s C.S.M. Volei Alba BLAJ (1-3) need to win both their remaining games in straight sets in order to remain hopeful for the second place. Their first challenge comes from France’s NANTES VB (3-1), currently placed second and taking on their Romanian opponents on Wednesday at 17:00 local time at the Transilvania Sporting Center in Sibiu. The French are in a must-win situation as well, if they want to stay close to unbeaten pool leaders A. Carraro Imoco CONEGLIANO in the race for the first place or at least gain ground in the race for the three quarterfinal spots available to the pool runners-up.

Darko Zakoc, head coach of C.S.M. Volei Alba BLAJ: "The first match in Nantes was the one that practically blocked our chances of moving on from this group. NANTES played very well in that match and are now the team that come to Sibiu with the thought of qualifying. We do not have to take this into account; we also have our goal for these last two matches. We have to play the best Volleyball in order to win and to conclude our participation in the Champions League with three victories."

In the other Pool D match this week, the Italian team from Conegliano travel to Hungary for an encounter with winless Vasas Óbuda BUDAPEST on Thursday at 19:00 local time.

On Sunday, Imoco claimed their third title of the season – the Italian national cup – to go with their successes from the Supercup and Club World Championship after routing Unet e-work BUSTO ARSIZIO 3-0. The ‘Panthers’ have a terrific record of 28 wins in 29 matches that they have contested this season so far, including an immaculate 4-0 win-loss record in the Champions League.

Daniele Santarelli, coach of A. Carraro Imoco CONEGLIANO:
“After winning the Italian Cup, we have to be good at resetting our mind and re-focussing on what is coming up next in the CEV Champions League and Italian national league. Fortunately, I have all 14 players available and I will be able to choose the starting six for the next matches considering their physical condition. With Vasas, we could only win at the tiebreak when playing against them at home; I hope we have learned the lesson because we want a victory to achieve our first goal, which is to secure first place in our pool.”

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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