If A. Carraro Imoco Conegliano have the star players to ride on a fantastic 63-game winning streak, VakifBank Istanbul certainly have the star players to put an end to that streak when the two formidable teams go head to head in Saturday’s Super Final of the women’s CEV Champions League Volley in Verona. And if the Italian club are extra motivated to claim their historic first continental title, the Turkish powerhouse are certainly extra motivated to break the title record in the competition.
Since the current format of Europe’s top-tier club competition was adopted at the turn of the century, VakifBank have won it four times to tie the record of Italy’s Volley Bergamo. If they win it again, they will be the first women’s team with five Champions League titles. VakifBank are already the record-holder in FIVB Volleyball Club World Championship history, with three titles in the competition.
By qualifying for the Super Final, the Turkish team have already made their way back into the Champions League medals, after missing the podium in the previous two seasons – in 2019 they were eliminated in the semifinals, and in 2020 they reached the semis again, but the pandemic put a premature end to the season. Now they are keen to make their way back to the top of the podium and regain the title.
To achieve that, coach Giovanni Guidetti can rely on athletes of the highest international calibre like setter Maja Ognjenovic and middle blocker Milena Rasic, both reigning world champions and Olympic silver medallists with Serbia. They are joined by outside hitters Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, a two-time champion of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League with USA and MVP and a Dream Teamer of the 2018 edition, and Gabriela Guimaraes, a 2019 VNL silver medallist and Dream Teamer with Brazil, and by middle blocker Zehra Gunes, a 2018 VNL runner-up with Turkey. The latter was also named on the Dream Team of the last edition of the Club World Championships in 2019 and currently leads the Champions League ranking as the player with the best spiking success rate of the season (69.84%).
For all of them, the Champions League Super Final will be the last opportunity to test their skills at the highest level, before the important national team competitions ahead, including the 2021 VNL in Italy and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in Japan.
Guidetti has one more weapon in his quest for European gold and that is Swedish international opposite Isabelle Haak. So far, she has scored 164 spikes towards a total 203 points, or an average of 5.97 points per set, and is the second best player in the League on all three counts.
To reach the title match in Verona, VakifBank went through the pool stage and the quarterfinals undefeated. In the semifinals, however, their will and power were put to the test by Italy’s Unet e-work Busto Arsizio, who stunned the Turkish favourites in the first leg in Istanbul. VakifBank’s reaction was impressive. They allowed their opponents just 43 points in the away game in Italy to book their ticket to the Super Final.
Main photo: VakifBank players celebrate their advancement to the Champions League final (source: cev.eu)
Watch all Champions League games live on EuroVolley TV. For more, visit the official Super Finals website.
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