Three of the four semifinalists in the men’s Russia Cup are now known, after Zenit Kazan and Lokomotiv Novosibirsk won their second stage pools to join hosts Zenit Saint Petersburg at the Final Four in December.
National champions Lokomotiv needed to win one set against Belogorie Belgorod in the Pool A decider in Khanty-Mansiysk on Wednesday. They went two sets up before changing most of their squad and allowing the opponents a complete comeback to a 3-2 (19-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-20, 15-11) victory.
Lokomotiv had shut out pool hosts Ugra-Samotlor Nizhnevartovsk on the first competition day, with Serbian international Drazen Luburiccontributing 19 points, including three aces and three blocks. Ugra-Samotor’s four-set win over Belogorie on day two made the task of topping the final pool standings a lot easier for the champs.
Incumbents Zenit, who have won the Russia Cup nine times, including the last six editions in a row, defeated all three of their opponents in Pool B, which they hosted in Kazan over the weekend. On the first day, Zenit took a 3-1 (25-22, 27-29, 25-18, 25-19) victory over Ural Ufa, making sure they avoided the mistake they made in the first stage of the competition, when the only loss they conceded was to the same opponent. Maxim Mikhaylov, with 21 points to his name, was the best scorer of that game.
Following a speedy straight-set win over Gazprom-Ugra Surgut on day two, Zenit had to face Fakel Novy Urengoy, also undefeated in the first two matches, in the deciding game for the first place in the pool. With a 20-point match high by Polish international Bartosz Bednorz, the hosts claimed a 3-1 (25-19, 18-25, 25-17, 25-18) victory to remain on track to defend the trophy.
Because of coronavirus-related complications, the matches of the Moscow second-stage pool featuring Kuzbass Kemerovo, Dinamo-LO Leningrad Oblast, ASK Nizhny Novgorod and hosts Dinamo Moscow were postponed. They were rescheduled for the first three days of December, when the last semifinalist should emerge.
The Final Four will take place in Saint Petersburg with the semifinals played on December 25 and the new Russia Cup winner decided on December 26.
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