Ufa, Russia, June 8, 2018 - It was 10th plays 13th in the Volleyball Nations League as China faced Iran in the Ufa Arena in Russia, but it was Iran who were in control throughout. Led by their setter and a solid blocking performance, they rode out 3-0 winners (25-19, 25-20, 25-15) with relative ease.
With the teams roughly equal with their average heights, both would expect to bring a solid blocking performance to their matches. But with statistics of 13-6 in kill blocks, only Iran can tick that box here.
It was a replay of the 2011 Asian Championship final, when Iran won their first Asian title, and it was again their setter who ran the show. Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, more commonly known as Marouf, is the captain and orchestrator for his team and after the match commented that “there are no easy matches in this competition. Today our service was good and they had a lot of problems with their side-out.”
Fresh from their 5 set win over France last weekend, China seemed to struggle from the off. Coming into the weekend, Chuan Jiang was top scorer in the VNL on 128 points and can now add another 13, but he will be far from satisfied with his days work. Chinas top performer here was 18 year old Jingyin Zhang who ended the match 14 spikes and 2 blocks and was often their go to guy.
Amir Ghafour of Iran was in third place in the top scorers charts (with 92 points) prior to the match and he showed exactly why he is currently keeping that kind of company with a solid display in attack top scoring with 19 points.
On arriving in Russia, both teams stood on two wins and four losses in this inaugural Volleyball National League, and are quickly running out of time if they hold any aspirations of making the Final 6 in France next month. With two of the top teams also in Ufa with them, both of these sides will face bigger challenges over the next couple of days in Brazil (currently 2nd) and Russia (currently 4th).
The first set was a block party, however unfortunately only for Iran. Saman Faezi led the way with three of his teams six blocks, while China could only manage one. In the end those blocks made the difference, as Iran ran out 25-19 winners.
With Marouf spreading the ball with ease, offering up single blockers and even open nets for his side using deception and speed at equal measure. Although the best set in the second set would probably have to go to the Chinese libero Jiajie Chen who put it on a plate for Jingyin Zhang at position four with a dig set from near the boarding’s deep behind position one.
It has come to be expected that the Chinese level varies from point to point, but the start of the second set contained too many unforced errors and Iran had built a considerable lead by the first technical, which was extended even further by the second. China did come back into it at the end of the set and avoided what could have been an embarrassing set score but their fate was sealed earlier in the set.
With China three points up in the third, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the comeback had started, but by the time they had reached double figures it was back with the flow of the previous sets. With the scores still close at 9-8, Marouf was on the service line and put a run of seven serves together to establish a healthy lead for his side.
One impressive and entertaining moment was when top scoring opposite Ghafour found himself in the setting position and opted for his middle blocker on a 1st tempo “A” quick set. The rally did continue, but as with most before it went the way of Iran.
With every successful block, the volume of China’s Spanish coach Raul Lozano rose – with his translator keeping a steady level. His team may be relatively inexperienced and still developing, but considering how well he knows many of the Iranian players this result will be disappointing. While his opposite number Igor Kolakovic was clearly pleased with his teams start with this group and they will hope to bring the same blocking game in their next two matches – they will need it.
With Marouf being clapped off by all in the venue at 23-14, the game went on to fittingly end with a kill block and Iran took the last set by 10 points.