Sofia, Bulgaria, June 3, 2018. Russia bounced back well from their loss to Serbia yesterday with a comfortable straight sets win against this weekend'shost (25-17, 25-15, 25-21). The main man in attack and defence, Egor Kliuka, scored with ease finishing 12 points, but being part of the creation of a large number more. Even when things got vaguely tense towards the end of the third set, he took his game to an even higher level.
Dmitriy Muserskiy is Russia's leading scorer to date in the Volleyball Nations League (the only middle blocker to do so for his team) with 77 points, however apart from the occasional moment of brilliance he was more on the periphery today with “only” 10 points. As well as star man Egor Kliuka, others exerting their influence on the match were Anton Karpukhov (7) and Konstantin Bakun (6). With the same 7 starting each set, and them only using two substitutes, Russia’s coach Sergei Shliapnikov was proven right to stick with the same team for this one.
The last time Bulgaria failed to win a set in successive major world level matches was at the 2014 World Championships, so they will leave the weekend needing to address their issues if they are to make the finals in France next month. Top performers for the home side today changed through the course of the match, with no player reaching double figures, only Nikolay Uchikov achieved a reasonable number taking 9 points.
Bulgaria have won only eight of their 47 previous matches against Russia (including as Soviet Union and CIS) at world level major competitions, with Russia winning nine of their last 10, the exception being their most recent meeting (a 3-2 win for Bulgaria in the 2017 World League). Russia were always in control of this one, and head home for week 3 while Plamen Konstantinov’s side travel to Japan.
Russia showed all of their strengths in the first set and after going 3-0 up seemed to always be in control of the match and with it the home crowd. The sole shining light for Bulgaria in set 1 was opposite hitter Uchikov, as they missed their main setter Georgi Bratoev after his ankle injury the day before, Georgi Seganov coming in for him.
One mega rally worth checking out started with the score at 4-6 and featured three pancakes and incredible scrambling defence from both sides. The final point was symbolic for the set, as a stuff block from Ilia Vlasov secured it for the reigning European Champions to 17 points.
The second set followed a similar trend with Russia having the edge in all departments of the game, being led well by their setter and captain Igor Kobzar. Everyone enjoyed a funny moment at 16-10 to Russia when a line shot by Valentin Bratoev appeared to leave a mark on the floor and just like in Beach Volleyball both teams were debating whether it was in or out. The challenge system had the final say though, proving it was out – and by some way.
It was the same with the set point, as Russia were successful in overturning an in/out decision to take it 25-15.
With the home crowd starting to realise that today was not their day either, Russia pushed on ever harder in the third set. It was 16-11 at the second time-out which signalled a slight revival for Bulgaria, urged on by the ever positive Libero Teodor Salparo, but the closer they got the more focused Russia became. The home side managed to save a couple of set points, but ultimately the lead was too big and a service error from Nikolay Uchikov closed a disappointing weekend for Bulgaria.