Three in three: how Zenit wins next victory in Champions League

Zenit-Kazan played its next group stage match of the Volleyball Champions League on 18 January. The game was in Germany and ended with Kazan players' victory 3-1. Realnoe Vremya tells about ups and downs of the game and Zenit's win.

Twice 13-time champions

Friedrichshafen is not a very easy rival as it might seem to some fans: the team won the Champions League once, which means something. Even if it happened in 2007. Friedrichshafen is still strong and ready to fight for the prestigious trophy.

The team became the champion of Germany 13 times leaving its major rival from the capital Berlin behind. Considering the state of affairs in this season, Friedrichshafen can get the 14 th victory in every tournament.

However, head coach of the German club Vital Heynen did not believe much in a victory of his players against Zenit. At the same time, he offered a crate of beer for every player in case of victory against Kazan players: ''It's quite a good result to score 20 points in one set against Zenit. That shows how dominant the Russians are. For every set we win I will buy one beer for everyone in the gym. If we win the game, everybody will get a whole crate of beer. We are looking forward to hosting Zenit Kazan and maybe we have a surprise in store.''

In general, it was not the first game of the teams. The match was going to be the 11 th in the competition history. The first match was when Zenit was called Dynamo-Tattransgaz. Friedrichshafen managed to win the Kazan club once in the 2011/12 Champions League season. The win did not have any importance, of course. And the victory was not very convincing – 3-2.

Friedrichshafen is not a very easy rival as it might seem to some fans: the team won the Champions League one. Photo:

''Funeral cortege''

Vladimir Alekno decided not to save energy in the match and fielded the best squad at the moment: Volvich, Gutsalyuk, Mikhailov, Butko, León, Anderson and Salparov. Kazan players started to prove their power from the beginning. Especially Mikhailov whose serves cornered Friedrichshafen athletes played furiously. So the score in the set reached a horrible level soon – 10-1. The head coach of Friedrichshafen and players of the team just did not understand what was going on and what they should do – it is how well Zenit played.

This state of affairs could not last for long, of course. And the German club pushed the accelerator, which brought Kazan players some problems. Zenit's block could not close at times, and the ball flew through a space. At one point Friedrichshafen players even reduced the margin, but the game was conducted by the club from the capital of Tatarstan.

By the end of the first set, Zenit started to cope with Friedrichshafen's speed. And the game in attack started to resemble a Kazan game – fast, powerful attacks that destroy any block and knock the rival's libero down. As for Zenit's game in attack: Kazan players tried attacking above the block of the German team, which was a big advantage for Vladimir Alekno's players. The final 13-25 proved the opinion about Zenit's power.

Generally speaking, the power of Zenit's attack is also in a very fast movement along the net: anybody can shoot the ball, and rival just doesn't have the time to follow Kazan players' actions, which is a great advantage for the four-time Champions League winners.

By the end of the first set, Zenit started to cope with Friedrichshafen's speed. Photo:

Beer for emotions

However, the beginning of the second set added some intrigue: whether Zenit relaxed, whether Friedrichshafen started to play better, and Germans took the lead during the set. The host team was ahead but not for long, of course. They were emotionally charged by their head coach who expressed his opinion about the game of his player at every opportunity and urged them not to give up.

Sure, Friedrichshafen could not let Zenit go forward when the game was even. This is why Vital Heynen tried different ways (legal, of course) to calm Kazan players' attacking ardour down – substitutions, video reviews and timeouts. And it helped. The Belgian told his players off, gave them valuable instructions, and they made their coach's ideas real on the court.

Here Zenit started to make silly mistakes at times simply giving its rival the ball in situations that seemed easy. And Friedrichshafen began regularly block Mikhailov and León. Emotions won a victory at the end of the set – 25-23. So everybody won a bottle of cold beer from the head coach of the team.

First like third

The third set started like the second one – an even fight and both teams' readiness to fight. However, at a moment, something happened in Friedrichshafen's attack, and Zenit started to gradually run away having scored 5 points in a row. Especially León shot a lot among Kazan players. The Polish Cuban simply walloped the block and defence of the German team.

During the set, it became noticeable that Zenit needed to start playing ''clear'' – its rival did not have any chances. Kazan players can become creative to get a devastating and a bit insulting score. Friedrichshafen is not Neftyanik from Orenburg, of course, but it seemed that Germans were weak at the knees, it explains the mistakes. The Kazan team also had almost a two-time advantage.

Having won the third win in three matches, Alekno's players are confidently going through the Champions League group stage. Photo:

Zenit's limitless character

The final set started a bit discouragingly – 3-0 in favour of Friedrichshafen. It is not 10-1, but Zenit had to liquidate the margin that seemed small. Surprisingly short Greek outside hitter from the German team Athanasios Protopsaltis was noticeable. It seemed that Kazan players were not prepared for the 182-cm Greek's attacks. They got used to it as time went by, of course. But this nimble outside hitter was a problem for such high block of Zenit.

However, after -4 by the first break, Kazan players started to play their volleyball, equalised the score and took the lead. It seems that they needed to increase the margin and provide a victory then, but Zenit started to play cat and mouse. Kazan players easily let Germans get closer and go ahead and then easily scored points for their team.

At the end of the set, Zenit's 3 points were under threat. Friedrichshafen suddenly and powerfully improved its game and almost levelled the score. But Vladimir Alekno took timeout on time and gave important instructions to his players – to be more careful in the rival's attack. Germans did not try taking risks. Zenit did not have big problems: they ended the fourth set with the final victory – 25-21 and, as a result, 3-1.

Having won the third win in three matches, Alekno's players are confidently going through the Champions League group stage. Zenit's level is seen at a distance, of course. Kazan players just need to start their game, and their rival begins having very serious problems immediately. This match showed that Kazan players don't have any problems with their character.

By Aleksandr Lushkin

FriedrichshafenZenit-Kazan 1-3 (13-25, 25-23, 13-25, 21-25)