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Underdogs bite back to stun favourites

 
Montreux, Switzerland, September 5, 2018- Volleyball fans congregating on the shores of Lac Léman for Day 2 of the 33rd Montreux Masters were treated to a day of drama at Salle Omnisports du Pierrier, with three breathtaking ties culminating in shock defeats for 2017 Gold and Bronze medalists Brazil and China. 

Poland, inspired by the excellent Malwina Smarzek, came out on top in a five-set blockbuster against defending champions Brazil in the late game in Pool A, after Italy had already stunned FIVB World Number One seed China, blowing away the 2017 Bronze medalists in a whitewash victory. Russia were the other big winners on Day 2 in Pool B, with a comfortable win over debutants Cameroon.

Pool B (16:30 CET): Cameroon 0:3 Russia (15-25, 17-25, 13-25)

There was much anticipation in the build-up to this one as Cameroon became the very first African team to compete at the Montreux Masters in its 33 year history, but the fairytale turned sour as Russia toppled the welcome wagon in a ruthless 3-0 win. 

Vadim Pankov’s side had their own point to prove having let a one set lead slip to lose to Brazil a day earlier, and they put right the wrongs of a naive and error strewn opening performance in emphatic fashion here, Middle Blocker Irina Fetisova particularly effective in the opening set as the Russians strode into the lead with a 15-25 first set win. The Sbornaya only upped the ante from there as Nataliya Goncharova, Ksenia Parubets, Irina Voronkova, Ekaterina Efimova and Irina Krotkova all chipped in with points to extend the lead with a 17-25 second set triumph. At that stage, the Russians were virtually unassailable, and even when Cameroon looked like gaining a foothold they were thwarted by individual brilliance, Goncharova and Libero Daria Talysheva combining on one occasion to pull off a stunning double save which helped clinch a crucial rally point. The trio of Zaryazko, Goncharova and Fetisova were the bane of the Cameroonians, the SBornaya cruising into a 9-21 lead in the third set with victory in sight. Efimova and Ekaterina Lyubushkina notched the final two points to put an end to Cameroon’s humbling, but it did little to dampen African spirits as they departed court with smiles on their faces, eager to take the positives from the learning curve of defeat. 

Poland are next on the agenda for Cameroon on Thursday (06.09.18. 21:15 CET) as they look to get back on course, whilst Russia having kept their hopes of progression intact will hope to be sure of the semi-final place with a win over the same opponents on Friday (07.09.18. 18:45 CET).

Pool A (18:45 CET): China 0:3 Italy (20-25, 13-25, 13-25)

Even the most optimistic Italian Volleyball fan could have been forgiven for writing this Pool A tie off against World Number One seed China after their opening day mauling at the hands of Turkey. But if the inexperience of Davide Mazzanti’s Azzurre side at this tournament was under any scrutiny after that game, they silenced their critics in stunning fashion here, flying out of the blocks like an express train to shock the Chinese in a 3-0 whitewash. 

Up and coming star Paola Ogechi Egonu was the master key to unlocking China’s notoriously impregnable defence, Middle Blocker Hu Mingyuan- who was so impressive on the opening day- given a torrid time by the Opposite as Egonu notched 18 points to help her side to victory. The Italians also had to be at their best at the net defensively as Ofelia Malinov and captain Cristina Chirichella were tasked with nullifying the threat of Wing Spikers Gong Xiangyu and Duan Fang, and they executed their task to perfection, with a further ten points from veteran Lucia Bosetti helping keep the Chinese at arm’s length throughout the contest. It was an uncharacteristically flat performance from An Jiajie’s side, who never really got out of first gear having been restricted from gaining any momentum in the game by the impressive Italians. There was one bone of contention right at the death, however, Italy’s match-point awarded by referee Alexander Ryabtsov who adjudged the Chinese to have set-up in an illegal formation for Italy’s decisive service. An Jiajie and the Chinese coaching staff engaged in lengthy protests, but ultimately in vain, but it took nothing away from a spirited Italian performance that leaves them a win away from the semi-finals should results fall in their favour elsewhere. Switzerland lie in wait next for them (06.09.18. 16:30 CET), whilst China gear up for a do-or-die bout with Turkey (06.09.18. 18:45 CET) with both teams’ hopes of progression in the balance.

Pool B (21:15 CET): Brazil 2:3 Poland (20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 22-25, 12-15)

Italy’s shock win set the scene for another entertaining encounter as plucky Poland took on World Number Four seed Brazil, but few would have predicted that there would be another shock on the cards as Opposite Malwina Smarzek fired the Poles to a sensational 3-2 win after a nerve-shredding match, racking up a monumental individual tally of 31 points, the most for one player in a single game at this year’s tournament so far.

It was another case of a slow start proving costly for the South Americans, who were forced to negotiate four sets in their win over Russia a day earlier. But despite overturning another first-set deficit to lead 2-1 after the third, José Roberto Guimaraes’ team fell to fatigue and simply ran out of steam, unable to match the energy and intensity of Poland as the clinical Smarzek and teammate Julia Twardowska- who hit 17 points of her own- proved thorns in the side of the champions. Despite Wing Spikers Rosamaria Montibeller and Fe Garay putting in creditable individual performances of their own, it wasn’t enough to dispel Poland’s momentum as Jacek Nawrocki’s team clinched a tight fourth set 22-25 to take the game all the way, and the fresher legs proved decisive as ace-in-the-hole Smarzek continued to provide the vital punch in attack. At 12-13 for Poland, the Brazilian bench became embroiled in a lengthy discussion with the match officials after the referee refused to allow them to make a double substitution which culminated in a stoppage, but Poland’s focus and determination remained unbowed and unbroken, Smarzek fittingly killing the game with an iron spike for a 12-15 fifth set match point to end a heart-stopping tie. 

Poland will now hunt for back-to-back wins as they face Cameroon on Thursday (06.09.18. 21:15 CET), whilst Brazil will look to muster a response on Friday (07.09.18. 21:15 CET) against the same opposition in their bid to reach the last four.



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