Dynasty of gladiators conquers Rome: Zenit-Kazan confirms the title of strongest European club
The audience melts before every match of Perugia because of a touching scene. A five-year-old girl in the club's T-shirt approaches warming up players and tenderly kisses everybody one by one. Having performed this ritual before the final meeting, she returned to the area where Zenit volleyball players were warming up. She passionately kissed Teodor Salparov. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent Aleksandr Norden who had been recovering after the Rome football derby four hours saw a good sign in it. It was true. The Kazan superteam became a club champion of the Old World for the third consecutive time and fifth time in its history!
Italian volleyball or Italian football: what is cooler?
Before telling about the decisive match, we can't help but briefly mention the second semi-final where spectators saw Italian volleyball in its best sample. Perugia and Cucina Lube performed not a play but a masterpiece that had everything – plot twists, amazing acts in attack and defence, endless long rallies, mind-numbing saves, numerous disputable situations, abuse of power by referees and a moment when both coaches — Lorenzo Bernardi and Gianlorenzo Blengini – were about to fight hand to hand. An entire constellation of volleyball masters was shining on the court – from Ivan Zaitsev, Luciano De Cecco and Aleksandar Atanasijević in the host team to Osmany Juantorena, Tsvetan Sokolov and Evgeny Grebennikov from Macerata (the club from Civitanova can also be called so). Perugia won the first and third sets, the second and fourth was won by the opponent. Moreover, the most scandalous situation came about at the end of the fourth one, and Cucina Lube that was undeservedly offended by the referees became angry and won the end. It seemed to have had a psychological advantage and… completely broke up at the tie-break having lost it easily 9-15. Zenit got an exhausted but emotionally encouraged rival who reached the Champions League final for the first time in its history and did not want to calm down having the strongest trump card at its disposal – frantic support of at least 6,000 fans.
Italian volleyball is good but calcio is not worse. The Sunday derby between Rome and Lazio than ended in a convincing victory of the latter with a score of 3-1 was also great. Although the majority of Stadio Olimpico except the fan zone of The White and Sky Blues and your author who have been supporting Lazio was sad. The last appearance of ''last emperor'' Francesco Totti, gorgeous saves of goalie Strakosha, a double by Keita, smart game of Lazio's attack constructor Ljajić, fast attacks of Salah… the match made be on tenterhooks and perfectly explained what modern European football is. In its Italian version…
The day was very intense. But the most important event was in the evening when Zenit and Perugia appeared on the court of Palalottomatica to the noise of the stands that was bursting eardrums.
Maksim machine gun waters Perugia
Vladimir Alekno fielded Anderson, León, Gutsalyuk, Mikhailov, Butko and Volvich in the line-up, Verbov was the libero. Bernardi's scheme did not surprise but the appearance of blocker Simone Buti was not forecasted. Verbov scored the first point in the final battle, and Zenit had to put effort to change the situation – 5-5. Atanasijević served out, the point was given to the reigning champion, but video challenge asked by Bernardi showed it was an ace. Mikhailov's shot stopped the block of Perugia, and the teams took the first technical break 6-8 in favour of the host team. Something needed to be done with the powerful serve of Bernardi's players – the ''Italian express'' started to gain speed, and powerful spikes of León and Mikhailov did not help.
But then Butko found an unprotected space on the other half of the court, and nothing left from the 3-point excellence of the Italian players – 10-10. Then our setter took the lead by an ace. When the ball was out from a triple block after León's shot, the Kazan players had two points more 14-12, and Bernardi took timeout. León could widen the margin but was out from a favourable situation. He was out as it seemed first. Video challenge shot that the block touched the ball – 16-13. Butko made the margin increase to 4 points, but it did not help much – Mikhailov, Gutsalyuk and Butko improved the excellence of Zenit – 19-13. 21:14!
It was Mikhailov's turn at the end of the set. Maksim machine gun was all-in-one – he served, blocked attacks and performed aces. The rivals reached the match point with a ten-point margin 24-14, only then Maks calmed down and served into the net. The Italians returned the compliment – 25-14 with a tough beginning – a confirmation of the serious reserve of Vladimir Alekno's collective.
They had to sweat
The host team led at the beginning of the second set whose defence worked well. Marko Podraščanin's shots began, but the guest team was not confused – Mikhailov levelled the score thanks to the first successful act. Then León who was in the shadow before was noted by an amazing cross. León liked to score points and put Kazan ahead – 6-5. The battle was serious. And the teams took the first technical timeout with a minimum advantage in our favour. Gutsalyuk acted craftily and beneficially who cornered Perugia's block by unexpected actions. Nobody managed to break off – 10-10, 12-12, 13-13, and, finally, the double block of Kazan pushed the team forward – 15-13. But the Italians who fought for every ball not only caught up with the rival but went ahead – 15-16, 16-17. Our reception went wrong a bit, but Volvich compensated the weakness of the attacking potential.
That set was not going to be a walk in the park. Zaitsev and Baria worked well on the back line of the host team, and the score was even before the end – 19-19. Atanasijević successfully served, Alekno already took timeout – they could not let the rival increase the margin by more than one point. Fortunately, the Serbian player shot in the net instead of a second ace, so Bernardi decided to give instructions to his players. Atanasijević had several opportunities for a decisive shot, but our block worked amazing – 21-21. Bernardi made two substitutions – Chernokozhev instead of Berger and Mitić instead of De Cecco. Then video challenge granted Perugia a point in a very debatable situation. The hall lost it. And Sivozhelez who substituted Volvich served well when the score was 22-23. The Italians sent the ball to our half where Gutsalyuk undertook the task – 23-22. The rival equalised the score once more, but Mikhailov ended the set with all his sports anger – 25-23!
I went to the space under the stands at the break. Last preparations for the award ceremony were taking place there – medal sets were laid (Cucina Lube took a bronze), beautiful silhouettes of the statuettes for best players of Final Four were seen.
Mikhailov and León would probably be among them, and they confirmed the prizes from the beginning of the third set – 6-3, 7-5, 8-6. Who will favour from the technical break?
Probably we – León hit Berger with perforating serves, performed a couple of aces on the audience's order. And with a score of 12-16 the coach of Perugia took second timeout for a short period of time. It did not help – 14-8 – the Kazan ''aeroexpress'' was more powerful than its Apennine colleague. The Tatarstan players organised a competition in serve: who shot stronger. Anderson sent the teams to the second technical break 16-9. He was the person to renew the execution of Brigate Garibaldi after the break – 17-9. 18-9!
Natural Born Killers (by name of the famous film) continued to mock the broken rival. León took the baton from Anderson. There was only one intrigue, would anybody from the other team win an individual prize? The Perugia players are glad about local successes. They had 10 points, got video challenge. But the moment of victory of the team-dynasty was inevitably approaching. Mikhailov reached the match point with his cannon, and the block achieved the victory – 25-14! The dynasty continues. It reigned above the Eternal City – who else must conquer it if not gladiators in modern times!
As for prizes, the host team got five awards for four people (Ivan Zaitsev was awarded two prizes at once). Ours did not come off worse. León, Volvich, and major award Final Four MVP was given to Maksim Mikhailov! Does the number of awards matter? Zenit has proven again it has no equals in Europe… Oh, yes, there is some Cruzeiro… One should aspire to some goal, right, Vladimir Alekno?