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19/03/2020 16:18
Loko claim three-point win over Zenit in first CEV Cup semifinal
CEV Volleyball Cup 2020 - Men

Luxembourg, March 19, 2020.  Lokomotiv Novosibirsk took the maximum out of their home encounter with compatriots Zenit Saint Petersburg in the first leg of the all-Russian semifinal playoff in the men’s CEV Volleyball Cup 2020. Without spectators on the stands, coach Plamen Konstantinov’s side managed a 3-1 (25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22) victory over the squad of Russian national team coach Tuomas Sammelvuo.

The first set was very tight. The gap never exceeded two points before match point, which came at 24-21 upon four in a row by Lokomotiv. Two rallies down the road, the home side pocketed the set to take the lead. In the second set, they stepped up their offensive efforts and, with middle blocker Iliyas Kurkaev (pictured below) spiking at 100%, pressured the opponents to open a six-point lead. Zenit fought back, but never caught up, only managing to get back to within one before Lokomotiv doubled their lead at 25-23. Set three was very competitive, with the lead going back and forth. With Gyorgy Grozer spearheading the attack (eight points), Zenit recovered from a 13-9 Loko lead to stay in the game with a 25-23 win. In terms of how the score evolved and as a final result, the fourth set was very similar to the first – with a hard-fought battle and neither side being able to break away by more than two points for a long time. But Lokomotiv’s Sergey Savin was on fire in attack, contributing seven successful spikes out of eight attempts towards a victorious 25-22 close.

Ilyas Kurkaev in action

Zenit’s German opposite Gyorgy Grozer was the best scorer of the match with 25 points to his name, followed by Loko’s outside Sergey Savin with 19. Middles Iliyas Kurkaev and Dmitry Shcherbinin impressed blocking, scoring five and four kills, respectively, for the winning team.

Plamen Konstantinov, head coach of Lokomotiv Novosibirsk: "We won, which brought us three points. In the series, which consists of two matches, this is very important. But not everything worked well for us during the match. After all, Zenit is a classy team. Our rivals changed their game, and we were forced to react and adapt. I am pleased that we managed to do it. It is difficult to say how the situation will unfold in the future. In first place, we have to consider people’s health. I think that spectators will not be allowed to the stands in the near future. It would be nice to be able to finish the season, but it’s not the same without spectators. It’s sad...”

Dmitry Shcherbinin, middle blocker of Lokomotiv Novosibirsk: "It’s very hard to play without spectators! The fans mean a lot to our team. But I think they all watched the match on TV; not only they, but in general many sports lovers. Volleyball is now one of the few sports, in which some tournaments continue. So we played for the fans; and for ourselves too. It is good that, despite the empty stands, we played on the court with emotion. All the guys fought hard as a team!"

Tuomas Sammelvuo, head coach of Zenit Saint Petersburg: "The outcome of the sets is largely determined by the endings, especially when the rivals are approximately equal in strength. We did not succeed at the endings of the sets. In a couple of situations, we did not act as we should have. As the game unfolded, we searched for different combinations of players and tried to change the game, but it did not work. Lokomotiv won deservedly. As for the situation with the coronavirus, which left us without spectators, we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Every day, things are changing. Therefore, we will not look too far ahead."

Dmitry Kovalev, setter of Zenit Saint Petersburg: "We lost two or three points at the endings of the sets. Probably luck was somehow not with us. Not everything turned out the way we planned although we seriously studied the rivals. But so did they. We took the third set, when we played well in defence and blocking... But we could not achieve a victory. As for playing without fans, it felt weird. The atmosphere was unusual, as if at a sparring match, but we were serious about it and we understood its importance. Spectators give teams extra emotions and, without them, it is not like that."

The re-match at the Sibur Arena in Saint Petersburg is scheduled on March 26 at 19:30 local time.

For more info, go to the CEV Cup 2020 section.

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