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13/05/2018 16:08
‘Block Devils’ come back twice to secure #CLVolleyM bronze
2018 CEV Volleyball Champions League - Men

Kazan, Russia, May 13, 2018. Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE seemed to have ‘absorbed’ the disappointment resulting from Saturday’s loss to Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA as the 2017 Polish national champions were close to leading by two sets to none in the bronze medal match of the 2018 CEV Volleyball Champions League – Men at Basket-Hall in Kazan. However, their opponents, last year’s silver medal winners Sir Colussi Sicoma PERUGIA of Italy, cancelled as many as five set points for Zaksa to level the count and stay in contention for third place. The ‘Block Devils’ came back again from a 1-2 deficit to pull out a 3-2 victory (17-25, 29-27, 19-25, 25-23, 15-7) to secure their second straight medal in Europe’s elite club competition.  

The losers of Saturday’s semi-finals certainly wanted to finish their season on a high note and despite the disappointment resulting from the setbacks in their previous matches against Cucine Lube and Zenit, both Zaksa and Sir Colussi Sicoma PERUGIA were hoping to travel home with the bronze medals around their necks. Zaksa stormed to an early 8-3 lead courtesy of the many mistakes made on the other side of the net. The show of strength delivered by the Polish team continued after the break, with their top scorer Maurice Torres moving the charts to 14-7 before PERUGIA finally found their rhythm and reduced their deficit to four points at 17-13. This attempted comeback, however, did not last long as Zaksa soon resumed their march towards a comprehensive 25-17 set win.

Zaksa had made the difference in the first set with their solid attack (50% success rate vs. 38% for PERUGIA) but as the match resumed, the reigning Italian national champions looked much more determined and focussed than earlier in the match. The ‘Block Devils’ were up to the task, leading the way at 9-6 and 13-9, but despite their initial lack of consistency, Zaksa fought back to 14-15. An almost sell-out crowd waiting for the gold medal match featuring hosts Zenit KAZAN enjoyed a very close fight with Zaksa’s outside hitter Sam Deroo eventually levelling the count for the first time at 20-all. The Poles edged ahead at 23-22 and claimed two set points after the star player of PERUGIA, Aleksandar Atanasijevic spiked out of bounds. Zaksa failed to capitalise on as many as five such opportunities, before PERUGIA emerged victorious 29-27 after a truly dramatic end to the set.

Such a close fight continued in the early stages of the third set before the athletic and truly explosive Torres powered Zaksa to a 13-7 lead. Despite their many attempts and some substitutions, PERUGIA never really recovered from this blow (20-13) and last year’s Polish national champions made it a step closer towards claiming their second Champions League medal in history with Torres sealing a 25-19 win.

It was still a way too early to ‘call it a day’ as PERUGIA opened the fourth set with an impressive 4-1 run and looked ready to give Zaksa a run for their money. The team from southern Poland, on the other hand, responded well, hoping to avoid an all-deciding tiebreak. Aaron Russell and Atanasijevic rose to the occasion, playing at the highest level since the very beginning of the match to keep PERUGIA alive and prolong this match to a fifth set (25-23).

Atanasijevic continued his show in the tiebreak (4-2, 8-4) with the ‘Block Devils’ looking in control and slowly but surely setting their sights on the finish line. It did not take long for PERUGIA and their fans to start the party as Zaksa scored only three more points following the side switch, and a service mistake by Rafal Szymura sealed a 3-2 victory for the 2018 Italian champions.  

The top two scorers from this year’s Champions League, Atanasijevic and Torres lived up to their status as they paced PERUGIA and Zaksa with 21 and 22 points respectively in an exciting bronze medal match that set the tone for the final act of the competition featuring hosts Zenit KAZAN and Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA. 

Atanasijevic was obviously happy with the way such a long and exhausting season ended for his side, stressing how badly he wanted this victory and medal:

Benjamin Toniutti, the captain of Zaksa, on the other hand was obviously disappointed, pointing out at the fact that his team seems to be losing any such tight match as the bronze medal game with PERUGIA:

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