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24/03/2016 21:24
Zenit KAZAN deliver show of strength to secure sixth consecutive Final Four appearance
2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League - Men

Lodz, Poland, March 24, 2016. Russia’s Zenit KAZAN lived up to their status of pre-favourites and after losing to PGE Skra BELCHATOW at home, the Tatars beat their opponent in three sets (25-19, 25-23, 25-19) to progress to the Final Four of the CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men for the sixth consecutive year. Zenit KAZAN will be trying to retain the crown they won last year in Berlin and play hosts Asseco Resovia RZESZOW in the semis on schedule for April 16 in Krakow in what will be a remake of the 2015 gold medal match.
 
Last week PGE Skra BELCHATOW had ended a winning streak encompassing 28 consecutive matches for Zenit but on Thursday night the Polish team was unable to dominate the Russian powerhouse for a second time. Vladimir Alekno’s armada conquered the Atlas Arena for the fourth time in history and as a result of their dominant display the Tatars booked their tickets to the Final Four.

These teams have now played each other 10 times and the record stands at five wins apiece, but it is Zenit that claimed the last one of these ‘Clashes of the Titans’. PGE Skra did a great job to stop Zenit in Russia and end their series of 28 consecutive wins, but did not have enough strength to repeat that same performance in Poland.

Every time PGE Skra played at an extremely high level, their opponents flew even higher. Zenit was just unstoppable and coach Vladimir Alekno could just stand aside and enjoy the great performance delivered by his stars.

“We did our homework taking our lesson from last week. We completely changed our tactics, and analysed PGE Skra very carefully. And that paid off. Skra started by taking a lot of risks and this time it did not work. We were just the better team,” Alekno said after the match.

“We knew the tactics and managed to keep the same level of concentration from the beginning to the end. In the first round we had let PGE Skra find their way back into the match, and they were able to come back from 0-2 down. Today we were simply the better side,” added the American star player of Zenit KAZAN, Matthew Anderson.

Wilfredo Leon started his amazing personal show just after the first technical time-out of the opening set, when he hammered the ball down in a really spectacular way. But the best was still to come from the Cuban-born player, who received a very warm welcome in Atlas Arena, as the local fans know he now owns a Polish passport… Two powerful aces by Leon gave the Russian champions an 11-9 lead, which was quickly expanded to 16-11. PGE Skra was unable to reduce that deficit showing a lot of problems in reception and also while trying to stop the Russian middle blockers. Andrey Ashchev was the man, for instance, who was successful in all of his four attempts.

12,500 yellow and black fans were given a moment to celebrate in the second set, when Facundo Conte spiked from the back row to close the longest rally of the match and make it 17-17. The next couple of minutes belonged to Zenit however – and after Maxim Mikhailov served an ace, the score stood at 21-18 for the Russian powerhouse. Spanish-born mentor Miguel Angel Falasca tried to find a solution to the problems the home team was struggling with. Nicolas Maréchal’s serves helped Skra bounce back to 22-23, but Matthew Anderson still had the last word. Mikhailov ended the second set and left PGE Skra with no margin of error after just one hour of play.

In the third and final set Zenit took an early and comfortable 8-3 lead and kept the same level of performance from start to finish. As their blocking system had kind of collapsed and without being able to rely on the usual contribution of their star opposite Mariusz Wlazly, PGE Skra could not keep the pace of an opponent performing at the level that Zenit showed on Thursday night.

“We did our utmost to compete. We won in Kazan, and here in Lodz we played at a very high level in the second set, but it still was not enough. Today we were unable to touch the ball with the block, what we had done in Kazan, and only Facundo Conte had the power to hammer the ball down. Zenit was just the better team,” Miguel Falasca summed up.

Leon and Mikhailov (pictured) scored 15 points each, while Anderson added 13. Zenit recorded a terrific 63% success rate in attack, and out-blocked their opponents 10 to two. Facundo Conte was the most prolific player for the home team with 14 points and Serbian middle blocker Srecko Lisinac added 10 to the count of Skra.

Click here for more info including detailed stats of the match

Click here for a post-match interview with Skra middle blocker Srecko Lisinac

Click here for a post-match interview with Zenit KAZAN star outside spiker Matthew Anderson

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