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17/04/2016 20:45
Zenit KAZAN come from behind to win record fourth Champions League title!
2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League - Men

Krakow, Poland, April 17, 2016. Zenit KAZAN of Russia extended on Sunday night their rule in the CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League after coming from behind before claiming a truly dramatic final match with TRENTINO Diatec of Italy 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-17, 27-25, 15-13). This way Zenit KAZAN set an all-time record in Europe’s and the world’s most prestigious club competition for this is their fourth Champions League crown following the titles they had previously claimed in 2008, 2012 and 2015. No other team has achieved that same feat since the CEV Volleyball Champions League was established 16 years ago. TRENTINO Diatec had to be content with silver but this medal coincides with their return to the European elite a few years after they had swept three straight titles from 2009 to 2011 and won a bronze medal in 2012. Zenit KAZAN cemented their status as Europe’s strongest team with their Cuban-born outside spiker Wilfredo Leon Venero shining bright like a diamond to sweep the Most Valuable Player honour for the second straight year.   

The eventual winners of the gold medal match knew they were going to make history for no other team can boast four titles from the CEV Volleyball Champions League since this competition was officially established 16 years ago. TRENTINO had routed arch-rivals Cucine Lube in Saturday’s semi-finals whilst Zenit KAZAN had overcome a difficult start to their match with hosts Asseco Resovia RZESZOW before claiming a 3-1 win to upset more than 12,000 Polish fans.

TRENTINO started from where they had left in the third set of the matchup with CIVITANOVA – their astounding performance resulting in a commanding 8-4 lead at the first technical time-out of the opening set. The audience in Krakow seemed to have made up their mind and to openly cheer for the Italian team, which could count on some 150 fans that had travelled all the way from northern Italy to Poland’s second largest city for the Final Four weekend. Like in the semi-final with Resovia, Zenit KAZAN needed some time to find their rhythm before narrowing their deficit down to two points at 15-13, thus prompting a time-out by TRENTINO head coach Radostin Stoytchev. The Tatars eventually closed the gap at 19-all with Wilfredo Leon standing behind the service line but TRENTINO did not lose composure and a point by their Slovenian outside spiker Tine Urnaut restored their lead at 21-20. The captain of Slovenia’s national team, performing in Krakow under the eyes of mom Anita and dad Adolf, was the real match winner as he closed the set out with a service winner at 25-23.

This promised to be only the first act of a closely contested final that was expected to put the icing on the cake of an already record-breaking Champions League season. And the battle continued in the second set where the score remained close up to 12-12 when TRENTINO claimed a narrow lead (14-12) after a missed attack by Russian middle blocker Alexander Gutsalyuk. TRENTINO’s positive run continued with two consecutive aces by their rising star, setter Simone Giannelli and all of a sudden Zenit KAZAN found themselves trailing by four points at the second technical time-out. The Russian armada closed within two points but TRENTINO’s players remained focussed and cool-headed at the same time with Tzourits spearheading another positive break for Italy’s reigning champions to move the score to 18-14. The fans in attendance at TAURON Arena continued to openly support TRENTINO in their attempt to cause a major sensation and they got what they wanted as the men in black shirts cashed their second set win – and yet again with Urnaut finishing it off, this time at 25-22.

Zenit KAZAN would not give up without putting up a fight and unsurprisingly the Tatars came out with all guns blazing in the early stages of the third set. Stoytchev tried to stop their positive run by calling a time-out at 10-6 for Zenit but Wilfredo Leon was just on fire and he added yet another point to the Russian lead with a thunderous service winner as the actions resumed after the break. In an effort to change the course of the match, Zenit coach Vladimir Alekno had re-shuffled a bit his line-up with young middle blocker Ivan Demakov replacing Gutsalyuk, whilst libero Teodor Salparov and setter Alexander Butko had taken the spots of Alexey Verbov and Igor Kobzar, respectively. He got the desired effect as the Russian lead stood at six points after the second technical time-out (18-12) and some more spectacular actions by Leon paved the way towards a comprehensive 25-17 set win.   

TRENTINO did not seem to have suffered that setback and opened the fourth set with a series of three straight points. Zenit responded with three of their own but Tine Urnaut continued to play a fabulous match to contribute to an 8-6 lead for TRENTINO at the first technical time-out. The Slovenian outside spiker joined forces with Giannelli to deliver a real show (12-8) but Zenit KAZAN fought back to lead by three points at the second technical time-out. In a dramatic crunch time and being only two points away from victory, TRENTINO made a couple of mistakes, which helped Zenit KAZAN extend an incredible battle to the tie-break (26-24).

Giannelli showed the cool-headedness of a real veteran in the fifth and deciding set where TRENTINO’s players did not suffer any psychological setback though they had veritably missed out on a number of opportunities to close the game. The match lived up to what you would expect from the final act of the world’s elite competition – two teams fighting to the very last drop of their energy and showcasing Volleyball at its finest. Zenit KAZAN erased an early deficit with the help of Leon’s mind-boggling serves but Giannelli responded to shape up an 8-7 lead for TRENTINO at the side switch. Stoytchev, however, had to stop the match when his side trailed 10-9; Leon and Mikhailov extended the Russian lead to 12-10, before the eventual MVP of the Final Four, Leon, had the last word to seize a record fourth Champions League crown for Zenit!


Zenit KAZAN outside spiker Matthew Anderson: “This team has just won the Champions League, this team has won the Russian Cup, Russian national league and the Russian Supercup if you want to count that. We have been a pretty dominant team and we are prepared to continue to perform at this level. The challenge is represented by the level of the teams who want to beat us. It’s not easy to stay at this level. As you can see even here we struggled today and yesterday. As a team our strength is that we find the right formula to win.

“After the second set our coach said just to go there, take risks and fight for every point. We all felt it and he didn’t actually have to say much more than that. How much worse could we play? He told us to risk on serve, attack and play hard towards every ball. If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be our turn to win.”  

TRENTINO Diatec middle blocker Sebastian Solé: “I am disappointed because we had that game in our hands and we let it slip. Zenit KAZAN had something that we didn’t. I’m proud that as an Argentinian I was able to win the silver medal of the Champions League. Now we have to go back home, review this game and prepare for the upcoming matches in the Italian national league.”

Dream Team

Best Libero: Jénia Grebennikov (FRA/Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA)
Second Best Middle Blocker: Sebastian Solé (ARG/TRENTINO Diatec)
Best Middle Blocker: Russell Holmes (USA/Asseco Resovia RZESZOW)
Second Best Outside Spiker: Tine Urnaut (SLO/TRENTINO Diatec)
Best Outside Spiker: Wilfredo Leon Venero (CUB/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Opposite: Maxim Mikhailov (RUS/Zenit KAZAN)
Best Setter: Simone Giannelli (ITA/TRENTINO Diatec)
Most Valuable Player: Wilfredo Leon Venero (CUB/Zenit KAZAN)

Final standing

1. Zenit KAZAN (RUS)
2. TRENTINO Diatec (ITA)
3. Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA (ITA)
4. Asseco Resovia RZESZOW (POL)

Click here for further information and visit the official website

Click here for a live gallery of the competition; on social media please use the official competition hashtags #CEVChampionsLeagueM and #CLF4Krakow

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