Ufa, Russia, June 9, 2018 - In a dominant display, Anton Karpukhov was the standout performer for Russia as they followed the form book against China by securing a straight sets win 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 31-29). When the pressure came on at the end of the third set it was the defensive side of the blue number 6’s game that kept his team in it on a Chinese set point, but he was the go to man in attack and then combined with Ilia Vlasov for the winning block to end an entertaining match – on Russia’s sixth match point.
Russia started the match down in eighth position, bottom of the top group of teams and knowing that they needed a win if they were to keep their hopes of a place at the world’s top table in Lille next month. Russia’s coach Sergei Shliapnikov was his usual calm and composed self and will be pleased with his teams ability to bounce back after yesterdays disappointing loss to Brazil.
Anton Karpukhov was by far the top scorer and most valuable player throughout, ending the match on 21 points (15 spikes, 4 blocks and 2 aces). As you will be able to calculate later, 11 of those came in the third set alone! The other two wide attackers filled the next two spots in their scoring charts - Egor Kliuka with 14 and Romanas Shkulyavichus with 11 points.
Chinas Coach Raul Lozano will be pleased in parts with what he saw but his team were unable to take the points when it really mattered. Tianyi Mao distributed the ball well around the big Russian block, helping Jingyin Zhang to top score with 13 points (with most of those also coming in the third set), followed by Chuan Jiang and Haixiang Du both on 11.
The reigning European champions have only lost once to China in 34 previous matches, with the Asian side's last win as far back as 1995 and Russia winning four of their last five in straight sets. So knowing that, today's result should not be much of a surprise. With one more match to go this weekend for each team, both will be looking to raise their games tomorrow as China face Brazil and Russia take on Iran.
The first set did not go as Russia had hoped but they emerged victorious. With a packed crowd it was China who had more flow to their game and built significant leads on multiple occasions. In the twenties it appeared Russia had the set under control at 23-21, but back came China. Romanas Shkulyavichus was in to start for yesterdays top scorer Konstantin Bakun and impressed at the death with an attack winner followed by an ace to take it 25-23.
With both outside hitters running the show, Russia did a similar feat in the second set. With the scores close until the twenties, they pulled ahead when it mattered and the set ended with exactly the same scoreline as the first. Karpukhov and Kliuka ended the set with a running total of 10 points each and it was a race to see who would end top scorer, but there was only one winner.
Chuan Jiang may be China's [and the competitions] top scorer so far, netting 148 points, but he failed to find the court with his serve on set point down, gifting the hosts the second set.
The trend continued in the third set, with both teams managing things well on their side out. Russian captain Kobzar was using his big middle hitters whenever he could - Ilia Vlasov and Igor Philippov (who came on for Dmitriy Muserskiy in the first set). But it was some unforced errors caused the home side to trail at the first technical 6-8. It was a stop-start set with many Challenges, but some great tactical serving from China helped them extend their lead to four points at the next interval.
Over the next few points if seemed to be a competition between the setters who could set the faster short ball, as both teams hit what appeared to be “zero tempo” spikes – quite impressive! However block by block, and a number of unforced errors swung momentum back to Russia and they were level by the twenties. In a set that went on and on, it was Karpukhov who ultimately made the difference in the end.
Russia do have bigger names waiting in the wings, and they may need to call on them if they want to guarantee that a spot at the finals. But today in front of 6,500 of their own fans they did what was needed to be done.