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16/02/2016 22:58
Zenit KAZAN edge Poland’s vice champions in four sets after unleashing full power
2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men

Gdansk, Poland, February 16, 2016.  Zenit KAZAN claimed on Tuesday night a 3-1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-17, 25-15) away victory in their first matchup with Poland’s vice champions Lotos Trefl GDANSK on schedule for the Playoffs 12 of the 2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men. The return is due to follow in two weeks in the capital of Tatarstan where the 2015 gold medal winners will be trying to use the home advantage to move on to the next stage of Europe’s premier club competition.

This is the first season for the rookies from Gdansk in Europe’s elite competition. Although they do not have a lot of famous players in their roster, they nevertheless have showed already playing against DHL MODENA in the pool phase that they are not afraid of taking on any major Volleyball star and are motivated to perform the best they can from start to finish of each match they contest. That is why even last year’s CL winners were expecting a great show and a close match in Ergo Arena and for sure nobody was disappointed in the end.

The match started with a show of strength from the service line delivered by Maxim Mikhailov and Wojciech Grzyb for Zenit and Lotos, respectively. The visitors from Russia quickly took control of the match and claimed a three-point lead at the first technical time-out of the opening set. Zenit continued to play with high intensity also after the break and made it 11-7 before home mentor Andrea Anastasi decided to stop the actions again. This move helped a lot, as Lotos Trefl showed that they were not afraid of their star-studded opponent and went on to score six points in a row with Murphy Troy standing behind the service line. As a result, the hosts edged ahead at 13-12 but Zenit woke up quickly responding with Wilfredo Leon’s and Mikhailov’s great performance in attack, thus cruising to a 16-13 lead at the second technical time-out. As the ‘money time’ approached the home guys tried their best to stand the pace imposed by Zenit but made too many mistakes (seven by the end of the set) which their opponents exploited to march towards their set win at 25-19.

In the second set the rookies from Gdansk came out with all guns blazing and quickly took a three-point lead (5-2). This positive trend for Poland’s vice champions did not last very long as Zenit responded by scoring four points in a row and at the first technical time-out they could boast a two-point lead (8-6). The home team’s block started working perfectly and first stopped Mikhailov before Anderson suffered the same destiny. A great performance in defence resulted in five points in a row for GDANSK and after another ace by Murphy Troy, Lotos Trefl piled up a four-point advantage at the second technical time-out (16-12). Zenit coach Vladimir Alekno tried to change the course of the game and replaced both middle blockers with Alexey Kuleshov and Ivan Demakov in for Alexander Gutsalyuk and Andrey Ashchev. However, this was not enough to stop the march of the home side as Lotos played superbly and the hosts were able to hold on to their early lead to finish the set at 25-22 in their favour.

The players of Zenit KAZAN showed all of their competitive spirit from the beginning of the third set. The visitors quickly took control of the match with a great performance first by Mikhailov to be soon followed by Leon as their lethal service caused many problems to the home team’s receivers. The Russian team claimed a comfortable lead at the first technical break (8-4) and further extended it afterwards up to nine points (16-7). Andrea Anastasi changed half of his starting six with Milosz Hebda, Przemyslaw Stepien and Damian Schulz entering the court but even though they brought fresh energy and GDANSK even scored a few points in a row with Schulz standing behind the service line, it was too late to attempt a comeback and Zenit easily pocketed their second set win at 25-17.

Coach Anastasi decided to surprise his opponent from the beginning of the fourth set and started with a completely different line-up including the likes of Schulz, Stepien, Hebda and Artur Ratajczak. The early stages of the opening set were a close affair with Zenit leading by ‘only’ two points at the first technical time-out (8-6). After that the visitors from Russia ‘destroyed’ Lotos Trefl GDANSK dreams of glory when Wilfredo Leon went to the service line, as Zenit took five points in a row to move the score to 16-9 in their favour. After the break, the Russian team continued their show and did not let the hosts come back into the game, never looking back as they marched towards a 25-15 win to seal their 3-1 away victory.

Wilfredo Leon was the top scorer of the match with 22 points for Zenit as Lotos Trefl GDANSK leader Murphy Troy scored 14 points for the home team.

“We are happy with the victory. Lotos Trefl GDANSK is a very good team, for sure better than our previous opponents in the Champions League this year, so this victory is an important one. We are focussed on every game, we are taking it match by match and do not feel any pressure from last year’s title, we rather focus on the next matches,” said Teodor Salparov, the Bulgarian-born libero of Zenit KAZAN.

“In the first couple of sets we showed that we can fight with one of the strongest teams in the world, playing good in block and defence, but unfortunately we could not keep that same quality for the remainder of the match and made too many mistakes in reception especially due to their strong service. It was a pleasure to play against the team from Kazan but for us right now the most important thing is the national league and in a few days we have another important game with JASTRZEBSKI Wegiel and we are mostly focussing on it. Of course we will fight in the re-match in Kazan but our focus lies mainly on the Polish national league,” commented Lotos Trefl GDANSK star player Mateusz Mika.

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the match

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