And León was not needed: Zenit walloped Arkas in first Champions League match

Vladimir Alekno's 50th birthday coincided with the start of the Champions League. This is why Zenit players had all reasons to make the week as pleasant as possible for their coach. And they did – Kazan players confidently walloped Arkas from Izmir (3-0) and did not notice the absence of their leader Wilfredo León. Realnoe Vremya tells how Kazan players gave their coach the best present.

Tie or debacle?

Zenit obviously prepared for the battle against the bronze medallist of the Turkish Championship Arkas from Izmir in a joyful and festive mood because the lasting mentor and the best Russian coach, of course, Vladimir Alekno celebrated his 50 th birthday. Alekno has been working at the Kazan top club for the ninth seasons since he changed Viktor Sidelnikov. If you look at the shelf at the club museum dedicated to this nine-year period, you will just admire – Zenit is a seven-time winner of the Russian Championship, three-time winner of the Cup of Russia and a club who won the major European trophy – the trophy of the Champions League – three times under him, not to mention the Olympic gold in London with the national squad of Russia. Alekno and his team can't conquer only one trophy at the moment – the Club World Championship.

This is why the festive week that started with such an event was to result in a confident victory of Zenit's first match in the new Champions League. Moreover, they needed to mark it with a firm debacle, so that the birthday man would not be bothered. Today the Turkish team doesn't seem to be a strong rival even at the group stage. For this reason, Alekno could consider another outcome as a tie for his birthday. No matter that the team's leader and best scorer Wilfredo Leon did not fly with the team because of an injury he got in Saint Petersburg.

Alekno could consider another outcome as a tie for his birthday. Photo: facebook.com/volleyzenit

Izmir did not frighten

The previous season of the team from the Mediterranean coast was extremely bad. Arkas finished only third in the domestic championship and gave way to Halkbank and Istanbul, which is considered to be a failure in Izmir, especially after a gold one year before. In the last Champions League, they took second place in the group but lost the match against Italian Macerate in Round Twelve – 3-0 and 0-3 without any will.

Generally speaking, the last time Izmir athletes played in Final Four of the tournament of the strongest European teams was a long time ago. They managed to do it once in 2012 when they defeated Lokomotiv from Novosibirsk. But it was the best achievement of the Turkish collective. They lost against Polish Skra in the semi-final without any chances (0-3) and were defeated by Trentino in the match for the bronze medal.

Arkas reached the group stage of this Champions League through the qualification where it did not have serious problems. In two matches, Turks easily won against Crvena Zvezda – 6-0 in total. But nowadays Arkas is the leader of the Turkish Championship. It won 8 in 9 matches.

Brazilian players are among the leaders of the team. They are libero Paulo Bravo and Olympic champion of Rio outside hitter Mauricio Borges. Setter of the national team of Canada Tayler Sanders and Cuban Michael Sánchez who is famous in Russia are another two 'stars' on the local scale. However, Turkish players are especially popular among fans – best receiver of the previous Championship of Turkey Gökhan Gökgöz and best blocker Mustafa Koç.

Turks did not manage to accommodate on the court when Volvich hit the ball to the floor. Photo: facebook.com/volleyzenit

No opposition noticed

They started amazingly – even in the first combination, Turks did not manage to accommodate on the court when Volvich hit the ball to the floor. Then Anderson and Butko scored their traditional points at the end. The scoreboard already showed 0-5, and the coach of Turks took timeout. However, the margin of five points maintained until Maxim Mikhailov appeared to serve and doubled the difference of Kazan with three aces – 8-16. Then they augmented their excellence with confident combinations, so that the margin became greater by the end of the set – 14-25. Evgeny Sivozhelez completed the period with a powerful shot.

The host team started the second set a bit better and even was first to open the score. But then an old song started. Butko and Mikhailov began to exercise their accuracy again – one did in serves, the other – in attack. 3-8 by the break. By the middle of the match, Vladimir Alekno asked the medical staff to give him ice. He had to apply the cold compress to his bad knee during the rest of the match. His old injury made itself known.

I had the feeling that the teams were playing one and the same set when Volvich possessed the ball near the net and hit the next shot, and the scoreboard showed 10-20 – pleasant déjà vu. The end was even more confident – 11-25. The battle became stiffer in the last set. Initially, Arkas took the lead 4-2. Mauricio Borges played quite well. But then people could distinguish ''come on, men' between driving motifs performed by local musicians in the stands. Kazan players put effort and took control of the game again. And they finished the match within more than an hour – 17-25 in the last set.

Expected outcome of a pleasant away match. Vladimir Alekno's team travelled to the south of Turkey where it presented its coach an excellent bonus having won the leader of the local championship with a clear excellence. The game in Izmir gave the answer to one question more – the reserve strength of Zenit's squad is quite powerful to be able to cope with middling rivals easily and without León.

By Erik Dobrolyubov
Sports