Tokyo, Japan, November 30, 2007: The European heavyweight contest went the distance at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Friday before Bulgaria landed the knockout blow in the tiebreak, beating Russia 3-2 in a bruising encounter.
The two Euro giants slugged it out point for point, set by set, until Vladimir Nikolov, rising on the right, beat the Russian block to end it.
With the 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-12 victory, Bulgaria improved to 7-2 and took a massive step on the road to Beijing.
Russia suffered their first defeat of the World Cup and dropped to 8-1.
Russia made the perfect start with an ace from Berezhko -- not a bullet but a looping delivery that caught the Bulgarian defence napping.
As the first set progressed, Vladimir Nikolov replied with a fiery ace, followed by another missile which led to a weak Russian reception and crunching finish at the net by Gaydarski.
Thanks to a swooping back court attack from Kaziyski, Bulgaria reached the first TTO with a two-point advantage, 8-6. There was a tense atmosphere on court as the two giants slugged it out, and when Ivanov blocked Poltavskiy on the Russian right, coach Alekno called a TO with his team down 12-9.
The Bulgarians looked quicker and hungrier at this point, as both Aleksiev and Kaziyski scored impressively on the left. Bulgaria led 16-14 at the second TTO and were able to hold a two or three-point lead into the 20s. Aleksiev pushed one into a big space for 21-17, Russia in general -- and Ostapenko in particular -- continued to struggle on serve, and Bulgaria took the first set comfortably 25-21 with a Kaziyski spike on the left. It was only the second set Russia had conceded so far.
Russia needed to lift their game considerably in the second set to stop Bulgaria taking complete control, and when they led 5-3, Bulgaria coach Stoev called a TO.
Captain Khamuttskikh led by example with a block on Aleksiev, and Kuleshov smashed a mighty winner at the net for 8-6 at the first TTO. Russia continued to build momentum with a Volkov block on Kaziyski, and Berezhko soared from the back court for 13-10.
A Volkov ace had coach Alekno leaning forward and applauding his team vigorously from the sidline, and another Berezhko winner down the middle took Russia into the second TTO ahead 16-12.
Poltavskiy greeted Bulgaria with a sizzling ace that fizzed past libero Salparov, and then beat a two-man block on the right for 18-13.
Kaziyski tried to haul Bulgaria back with a power-packed spike that was too good for Kuleshov, and setter Zhekov blocked Berezhko. When Vladimir Nikolov climbed on the right and spiked viciously across court, the Russian lead was down to three at 20-17.
Behind some fine serving from Zhekov, Kaziyski blocked Poltavskiy and Russia called a TO hanging on to a one-point advantage at 21-20. The next rally would be crucial, and Volkov won it at the net for Russia, 22-20. Brilliant reception by Tetyukhin on a Kaziyski fireball serve enabled Poltavskiy to smash Russia ahead 23-21, and a Poltavskiy tip brought up two set points at 24-22. On the second of those, Nikolov's serve error handed Russia the set 25-23, 1-1.
Now firmly in the game after a tentative start, Russia accelerated in the third set and led 8-5 at the first TTO thanks to some commanding net play from Volkov.
Tetyukhin has been the driving force of this team, though, and his defence as well as attack led Russia forward.
Both teams enjoyed strong support around the hall and the points came thick and fast. Bulgaria captain Konstantinov enjoyed mixed fortunes on the left, but when Nikolov scored from the right there was only one point in it at 16-15 Russia.
The Russians could not get away, and the brilliant Kaziyski and Nikolov continued to beat the Russian block on the left flank. Trailing 19-18, Russia called the first TO of the third set.
Konstantinov climbed and spiked on the left to take Bulgaria into the 20s, and Gaydarski rose unchallenged at the net to pound an easy winner for 21-20.
A Volkov net touch put Bulgaria in front 23-21, leading to a Russia TO, and Berezhko sliced wide on the right for 24-21, three set points. On the second of those, Berezhko's long serve gave Bulgaria the third set, 25-22 for 2-1.
Trailing 5-4 in the fourth, Russia replaced Tetyukhin with Abramov. The Bulgarians were full of confidence as setter Zhekov, Ivanov, Gaydarski and Nikolov all capitalised on a far-from-smooth Russia to shoot their team into the first TTO with a one-point lead. The highlight for Russia had been a Khamuttskikh block on Konstantinov.
Nikolov popped one over on the right for 11-10, only for Poltavskiy to reply for Russia with another smooth hit on the right. On the next point, Poltavskiy blazed past the block and defence to suggest he was moving into top gear as the fourth set developed.
Bulgaria held the most slender of leads at the second TTO, 16-15, but their attack began to falter and they called a TO on falling behind 19-17.
Excellent Bulgarian serving was matched by the Russian reception of libero Verbov, and a Kuleshov winner was followed by an Abramov block on Kaziyski for 21-18, Bulgaria TO.
Substitute Aleksiev kept Bulgaria in touch, before Berezhko brought up two set points for Russia at 24-22. Poor reception was followed by a Berezhko pushover for 25-22, 2-2.
In the tiebreak, Russia jumped out to 5-2 with strong serving and blocking, forcing Bulgaria into a TO. An Ivanov block on Poltavskiy closed the gap to 5-4 and sent Russia into a TO, and Nikolov scored on the right for 5-5 after incredible Bulgarian defence from Salparov.
Konstantinov rose and spiked sharply from the left to nudge Bulgaria in front 7-6, and did the same again for 8-7 at the turnaround with a wristy winner.
Kaziyski on the left and Volkov at the centre traded points to 10-10, before Bulgaria advanced to 13-10 due partly to a Kuleshov attack error at the net.
Bulgaria had three match points at 14-11 with a Nikolov block on Poltavskiy, and Nikolov won it 15-12.