Osaka, Japan, November 18, 2009: Iran stunned African champions Egypt 3-2 in the first match of the Men’s World Grand Champions Cup at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium on Wednesday. Iran, runners-up to Japan in the Asian Championship, came back from losing the first set to win 21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 15-10 for a dream start.
The power serves of Abdalla Ahmed set the tone for the early part of the match, and with some excellent blocking, notably from Atia Rashad, the Egyptians led 8-5 at the first TTO. After a tentative start, Iran began to find some rhythm, and setter Saeid Marouf stopped left attacker Moneim with a superb block. When Hamzeh Zarini hit the floor with a dipping, well-placed ace, the Iranians were level at 13-13. Middle blocker Abdel Latif stepped up the pace for Egypt, who sent Iran into a second TO on going ahead 20-16. A fizzing ace from Zarini closed the gap to 23-20 and prompted an Egypt TO, but the African champions returned to finish the first set 25-21 with a lusty blow from Saleh Fathy Youssef.
The match was full of ferocious serves, pounding spikes and crashing blocks from both sides, and Iran’s captain Alireza Nadi at one point showed his soccer skills to keep the rally alive. An ace from Mohssen Andalib moved Iran three points clear at 13-10 in the second set, and Egypt took a TO having lost the initiative. Mousavi greeted them with an easy finish at the net after another fine serve from Andalib had unsettled the defence, and Iran now led by four. Mousavi was beginning to take control of the net, and his defence set up a counter-attack for Zarini, 16-11 Iran at the second TTO. A Rashad block on Mousavi when they went head to head down the middle reduced Egypt’s arrears to 16-14 and sent Iran into a TO, but the West Asians regrouped to forge ahead 19-14, with Zarini leading the attack. A Mousavi block on southpaw Ahmed Salah knocked the stuffing out of Egypt, and Iran took the set 25-20 for 1-1.
The start of the third set was scrappy, as neither side could find a groove. Iran led by one, 8-7, at the first TTO. The blocking and serving of Abdel Latif lifted Egyptian spirits and leveled the score at 11-11, at which point Iran took a TO, only for Andalib to respond with a blistering delivery that gave Egypt libero Wael Alaydy no chance. As the set progressed, Iran took advantage of the lack of cover in the Egyptian back court to lead by three, 16-13, at the second TTO. Iran’s blocking, by Nadi and Mousavi, maintained a three-point cushion at 20-17, and Zarini brought up three set points at 24-21. The Iran block closed it out 25-21 to lead 2-1.
A flying dig from Iran’s Andalib, finished by Zarini, was the highlight of the early part of the fourth set as Iran tried to tame the Egyptian fire, but clean hits from Salah and Moneim and the blocking of Abdel Latif sent the Africans into the first TTO ahead 8-5. The lead grew to 11-5 as Egypt maintained a fast pace, and an Abdel Latif block for 13-7 sent Iran into a TO. There was no stopping southpaw Salah, however, as the Egyptian ace pounded his team into the second TTO in control at 16-11. Saleh Fathy’s block moved Egypt forward, and Moneim made it 22-14 on the left. The Iranians were clearly saving themselves for the tiebreak, and let the fourth set slip away 25-17.
Moneim came up with some big points for Egypt in the decider, and Saleh Fathy’s defence was outstanding as they moved ahead 6-5. Zarini was not finished yet, however, and his inspirational play helped Iran turn around 8-7 up. A Nadi block opened up a two-point lead at 9-7 and sent Egypt into a TO, before Arash Keshavarzi pounced for 12-10, forcing Egypt into their second TO. A Zarini winner on the left for 13-10 had coach Madani jumping for joy, and four match points arrived at 14-10. Mehdi Mahdavi finished it to start the celebrations.