Iraklis make Champions final
Three thousand travelling Iraklis fans saw their side qualify for the volleyball Champion’s League final on Saturday after they had a three sets to one win over Russian power Iskra Odintsovo in Prague.
The Russians were heavy favourites and took out the first set, but Iraklis stunned the volleyball community winning the contest and booking a place in the final where they will meet Italian side Trentino Volley.
Iskra Odintsovo began the first set well thanks to captain Pavel Abramov and Denis Kalinin, who shut down the Greek’s defenders.
Iraklis head coach Flavio Gulinelli recognised the danger, restructuring his side after a time out with the scores at 12-15, but the Russian blockers were relentless.
German Jochen Schops brought up set point for Iskra with a blistering winner from the right; and Andrey Egorchev closed it out at 25-19 with a monster block.
Schops again set the pace for the Russians in the second set, building an 8-6 lead at the first time out.
With the match looking like being closed out by the Russians, Iraklis’ Simon Tischer set up Swedish star Marcus Nilsson for a huge point which got the Greek side back in the match.
With both teams taking service risks, errors began creeping into the set with the scores locked at 16-16 then 18-18.
Iraklis responded first, taking the set 25-22 before the 9000 fans, led by Nilsson and their solid block as the Russians struggled with their attacks.
Iraklis were eager to continue their ascendancy, establishing an 8-2 lead which Odintsovo reduced to 16-13. Brazilian Giba was on fire for the Russian side, as the third set became tighter than the previous set.
With the scores locked at 22-22 and 23-23, a huge defensive block followed a potent attacking manoeuvre giving Iraklis the third set 25-23 and a two sets to one lead.
It was a different Odintsovo side in the fourth set, as the Russians looked to level the sets once more.
Coach Zoran Gajic was typically animated on the Russian bench as his side cruised to a seemingly unassailable 19-12 lead.
Needing just six points to tie the match, Odintsovo was stunned by a massive Iraklis come back, as the Greek side piled on seven consecutive points to level the scores at 19-19.
Iraklis’ fans were in party mode as they sensed an unlikely victory, and their team did not let them down. Iraklis to a 22-21 lead and never looked back rounding off the fourth and final set 25-23.
“I can’t find any words to explain our blackout in the fourth set”, said a shocked Odintsovo captain Pavel Abramov. “We had a comfortable 6-points lead, but then started to struggle in reception and attacking. Unbelievable!”
Iraklis captain and setter Simon Tischer was jubilant following the finale.
“We were almost down on the end of the fourth set”, he explained, “but thanks to our outstanding fans we found a way back into the match, overpowering the Russians with an extraordinary comeback. Fantastic!”
“I would like to thank my players and all our fans for their hard work, they made an excellent job tonight”, stated Iraklis’ Head Coach Flavio Gulinelli. “I’m very proud of them.”
Iskra Odintsovo vs Iraklis Thessaloniki 1:3 (25-19, 22-25, 23-25, 23-25).
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