Lille, France, July 5, 2018 - Lucas Saatkamp produced a monumental display as Brazil booked their place in the semifinals of the FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League with a crucial 3-0 victory (25-16, 28-26, 25-19) over Serbia in Lille.
The Brazilians - Olympic champions and perennial attendees in the latter stages of world level tournaments - knew they had to win this Pool A clash after losing to hosts France in five sets on Wednesday, and they did just that with a typically powerful display with their brick wall-like block defence proving a thorn in the Serbian side - and Lucas was the key figure. Renan Dal Zotto's men barely put a foot wrong defensively and they always had the firepower out wide with Wallace de Souza putting away spikes with regularity. Serbia were simply unable to impose themselves on the match and now have to beat France on Friday to join Brazil in the semis.
Brazil, who had lost five of their previous seven VNL matches prior to this one, were without the injured Mauricio Borges but it didn't seem to matter with Wallace scoring a team-high 16 points. But it was the unsung heroes like Mauricio Souza (9 points), Douglas Souza (9 points), setter Bruno Rezende and the outstanding Lucas, who provided the glue in a Brazilian performance that will serve as a warning to the other nations. Eight of Lucas' 15 points came from blocks as he helped strangle the life out of a multi-talented Serbian attack.
Serbia had won their previous five VNL matches prior to this one to finish fourth in the preliminary round table - one place ahead of Brazil - but despite a big performance from Aleksandar Atanasijevic (17 points), they were largely kept at bay with Marko Ivovic (13 points) struggling to land his spikes early on. Srecko Lisinac (10 points) was the other Serb to hit double figures.
Brazil made their intentions clear with some superb early first-set blocks and led 8-3 at the first technical timeout. The South Americans got stronger as the set wore on with Mauricio, Lucas and Bruno not giving an inch with their impeccable block defence - the trio often combining effectively. Back-to-back Bruno blocks extended the lead to 19-11 before Wallace finished off some spectacular work from the setter in the very next point as Brazil hit the 20-mark. Renan Dal Zotto's men soon rattled off the set 25-16 with Serbia looking stunned.
Brazil won this fixture 3-0 in the Preliminary Round in Kraljevo, but Serbia were keen to make sure history didn't repeat itself. Nikola Grbic's men were much better in the second set as they found some space between Brazil's yellow wall. Serbia led 10-9 before Brazil scored one of the points of the VNL thus far. The Serbs looked set to go 11-9 in front only for Lucas Loh's sublime piece of skill: Loh kicked the ball back over the net from close to the team benches before producing a sensational block to get Brazil back on level terms. Serbia got Ivovic into the game more, while Atanasijevic was a big influence, but it was Brazil who were handling the big moments better. Substitute Evandro injected fresh impetus with some key spikes before Lucas' pinpoint ace serve saw Brazil convert their 4th set point (28-26) to move 2-0 ahead.
Set 3 was another tense affair with the lead changing hands several times. Atanasijevic's spike edged the Balkan nation into an 8-6 lead but Brazil are a streetwise side and put the pressure on when their backs were against the wall. With Serbia arguing with the referee about a previous point, Bruno caught the Europeans out of rotation to edge Brazil two clear (14-12) and the South Americans never looked back. A brilliant Wallace block and back-to-back ace serves from Lucas stretched the lead to 5 points, and Brazil saw out the set (25-19) in sensational style with Lucas Loh and William Arjona producing incredible pick-ups for the unsung Douglas Souza to finish. It's the South Americans' 29th victory in 39 outings against Serbia and they progress to the last four after picking up four points from their two matches.