CEV Champions League ‘Magnificent Four’
Sir Sicoma Colussi PERUGIA
Ivan Zaytsev, Luciano De Cecco and Aleksandar Atanasijevic are undoubtedly the superstars on a team that claimed five of the six matches they contested in Pool E – where they played star-studded opponents such as Russia’s Belogorie BELGOROD and Turkey’s Halkbank ANKARA. Even though USA outside spiker Aaron Russell suffered a serious injury earlier this season, Austria’s Alexander Berger has stepped in for Russell and shown he has what it takes to complete a superb starting six including also two very experienced middle blockers in Emanuele Birarelli and Marko Podrascanin and libero Andrea Bari.
Actually, PERUGIA’s campaign in this year’s Champions League started in the third round already where they dropped one set but easily swept aside Switzerland’s national champions Volley AMRISWIL.
Sir Sicoma Colussi PERUGIA will try to emulate what TRENTINO Diatec did in 2011 – when Matey Kaziyski & Co. stood on top of the podium in Bolzano, thus using the home-court advantage in what is the last Final Four to have taken place in Italy before PalaLottomatica hosts a huge Volleyball party later this weekend.
The ‘armada’ from the Republic of Tatarstan will try to extend Russia’s supremacy in the men’s CEV Volleyball Champions League. Teams from this country have taken the top honours for the past five years, with Zenit standing on top of the podium in 2012, 2015 and 2016 – and Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK and Belogorie BELGOROD adding further glory with their gold-medal performances from 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Russia are the most successful nation in the men’s Champions League since the establishment of this competition back in 2000 – next to the five titles in a row their teams have won since 2012, Belogorie BELGOROD stood on top of the podium in 2003 and 2004 as well, this accounting for a total of seven gold medals for Russian teams.
The fans travelling to Rome as well as those who will be following the matches on TV and on the Internet can start looking forward to another show of strength from the players coached by Vladimir Alekno. Maxim Mikhailov, Wilfredo Leon and Matthew Anderson compose a trio that knows no equal on the international Volleyball scene but Zenit KAZAN have even more to offer with their setter Alexander Butko, an Olympic champion from London 2012, middle blockers Andrey Ashchev and Artem Volvich, and libero Alexey Verbov.
Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA
Last year they had to be content with bronze in Krakow after losing to TRENTINO in the semis and the same happened in 2009 in Prague – so CIVITANOVA will first try to make amends for these ‘domestic’ setbacks when taking on hosts Sir Sicoma Colussi PERUGIA on Saturday in the second of two semi-finals at PalaLottomatica.
Cucine Lube surprisingly dropped their first match in Pool B losing to Germany’s BERLIN Recycling Volleys but after that, their run has been an almost impeccable one – they lost 2-3 at home to PGE Skra BELCHATOW but after taking the two sets they needed to secure their spot in the Playoffs 6.
CIVITANOVA will take to the court with some of the world’s best Volleyball players wearing their shirt – setter Micah Christenson, outside spiker Osmany Juantorena, opposite Tsvetan Sokolov, libero Jénia Grebennikov, to name only a few. There is no question that, as far as domestic competitions are concerned, Cucine Lube have been the dominant force this season – but now they want to conquer Europe as well.
BERLIN Recycling Volley
Actually, the BR Volleys started their campaign with a sensation right from the first match they contested back in early December when they rallied to a home victory over Italy’s giant Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA. They eventually made it through what everyone had dubbed the ‘group of death’ since their pool in the League Round featured, next to Cucine Lube, Polish powerhouse Asseco Resovia RZESZOW as well.
However, the real sensations were still to follow – and the BR Volleys were on the brink of elimination already in the Playoffs 12 after losing to ISTANBUL BBSK in Turkey (2-3) and trailing 0-2 in their rematch in Berlin. However, before a huge, raucous crowd they came from behind to sweep three sets in a row and the all-deciding Golden Set to progress to the Playoffs 6.
There, the team from Germany’s capital caused two more sensations – with two tiebreak wins over Dinamo MOSCOW. The more sensational of the two wins for the Germans came probably in Moscow where they emerged victorious from a battle that lasted for 149 minutes to book a ticket to Rome – something only a few would have predicted at the beginning of the season.