Chicago, USA, June 16 , 2018 - Aleksander Atanasijevic smashed through the 30 point barrier to get Serbia back on track in the race for VNL glory with a thrilling 3-2 (21-25, 25-22, 27-25, 20-25, 15-11) win over Iran.
The Serbian opposite spiker was in fearsome form, finishing with 28 spikes, two blocks and two aces with some of his serves flying at over 120 kph.
With Marko Ivovic (13 points) also contributing in what was an excellent team display, this was a welcome victory for the side from the Balkans who badly needed a response after Friday’s hammering by the USA.
"It was a big fight and a big win for us, this was so important for us mentally," said Marko Podrascanin who finished with nine points. "We need to forget this now and concentrate on Poland tomorrow."
Serbia outspiked Iran 72- 59 and out-blocked them 10-9 although it was Iran who bossed the service points 7-3. Iran cheered on by their fanatical fans still on a high from Friday's brilliant victory over the Polish, were in this rollercoaster affair right until the very end and the likes of Milad Ghara (21 points) and Porya Yali (13 points) will be left wondering how they let this match slip after gaining control in the first set before allowing Serbia back in.
The Iranians made a decent start and were helped by nine errors from across the other side of the net and even though they were out-spiked, they had enough power, and passion, to storm ahead.
Yet credit to Serbia. Blown away by the hosts on the opening night, this was a display far more suited to a team who are still eyeing the chance of landing a ticket to the finals in France.
Having stormed 12-10 ahead in the second, the lead changed hands a number of times and at 17-17, this entertaining encounter was very much on a knife edge. Nikola Grbic’s side needed something special - so up stepped Atanasijevic to produce some blisteringly brilliant moments of magic.
Two thumping aces helped his team earn a 23-20 lead before a huge spike brought up set point. Iran held firm but they couldn’t hold down Atanasijevic for long and another booming winner helped Serbia draw level.
He already had 12 points to his name and as this breathtaking encounter continued, it was clear there was room for plenty more. Iran had struggled to get their defensive game going and as this epic tussle moved into the third set, the Europeans were 21-20 ahead.
A monumental block from Mojtaba Mirzajanpour turned the game on its head and helped Iran move into the lead.
The atmosphere was electric and when Serbia made a complete hash of a straight-forward set and gifted the Iranians the easiest of points to level the scores at 24-24, it could have gone either way.
Podrascanin had other ideas though as he pushed his side forward before the deftest of touches from Milan Katic helped seal the third.
Iran though came storming back, taking an early 8-4 lead in the fourth and assuming control before a thrilling tie-breaker sealed the deal for Serbia who kept the pressure on and despite a strong comeback from their opponents, managed to hold firm.
Tempers began to boil over and Mir Marouflakrani was shown a yellow card for dissent, the frustrations of seeing the game slip away becoming too much to handle.
The defeat means Iran are now just playing for pride in the VNL - but Serbia march on and remain very much in the mix.