Ufa, Russia, June 10, 2018 - Dmitriy Muserskiy offers his teams much with his spiking ability and his massive block, but today it was only the attacking side of his game that really functioned, but boy did it function. In a match where every set was decided by a few key moments, the 24 points scored by Russia’s number 13 – made up of 23 spikes and 1 ace – went a long way to swinging this match the way of the European Champions 3-1 (28-30, 25-23, 27-25, 25-21).
Whilst the match was won through the middle, yesterday's star Anton Karpukhov pulled out a hattrick of aces just when Iran thought they might be able to get into a fifth set. He ended on 13 points and was only slightly out scored by Egor Kliuka and Konstantin Bakun, who both notched 15 points across the four sets.
The serve is the first chance to attack in volleyball and Russia did that scoring big points at crucial times from the service line. In the end they ended on 8 aces compared to the 5 Iran scored. After the match, Russia’s libero Aleksei Kabeshov commented that “the team spirit was the key and after a disappointing loss to Brazil we are please with how we have responded.”
Top scoring for Iran was Ali Shafiei through the middle (18 points) with coach Igor Kolakovic heard to be encouraging him to hit an ultra quick tempo to beat the big Russian blockers. Wing spiker Milad Ebadipour Ghara H. finished just behind him on 17, followed by the returning Amir Ghafour on 14. This was actually Iran's 150th match in world level major competitions but another record they now have it to have lost on the third day of all VNL weekends so far.
Russia extend their lead in the head-to-head to 11-3, but more importantly they move from 6th position to 4th in the round robin standings (W6 L3) while Iran remain in eleventh (W3 L6). From here Russia will head into central Europe to Ludwigsburg (Germany) while Iran will cross the Atlantic to Hoffman Estates (Chicago, USA) as action returns for week 4.
Russia have won each of their last three world level major competitions against Iran in straight sets but that was not to be the case today. In a close first set it was the away side that came through a nail-biting first set to take a 30-28 set win. With contrasting styles through in the middle, the height and power of Russia faced a difference challenge with the speed and deception of Iran. Setter Marouf continued to find channels between the blockers to give his team the edge after a great come back from trailing 20-15.
Sergei Shliapnikov urged his team on in front of their home crowd of 6000+ but when there is a big block, there is a big target and Iran got a great deal of success and confidence when trying to hit off it. There were chances for the Asian side but every time they got close Russia just had enough to keep them at bay – setter and captain Igor Kobzar was instrumental in finding a way to level the match.
After two close sets, those following knew what to expect with the third so when the score reached 26-25 and the ball was set to Dmitriy Muserskiy people expected a point, but they did not expect a delicate tip to the corner.
The fourth set started with Iran wanting a 5th set, safe with the knowledge that they have a very good record when reaching the tie break – as prior to Brazil beating them yesterday, they having won all six five-set matches they have played since the 2016 Olympic Games. Despite sticking with them until the twenties, it was that service run of Karpukhov that distinguished any remaining hopes and in the end a service error brought and end to proceedings.
Iran will rightly look back at some set points they missed that would have made the difference but will be relatively pleased with how they stuck with the 2012 Olympic Champions for the majority of the match.
Russia have now won two of the three matches in each of the first three VNL weekends, but that win rate will not be enough if they want to be the first ever Volleyball Nations League winners.