The Brazilian block: (from left) Sheilla, Fabiana and Jaqueline
Reggio Calabria, Italy, September 6, 2006: Holders Brazil crushed Russia 3-0 in the opening match of the FIVB World Grand Prix 2006 Final Six at Palacalafiore on Wednesday.
It was the first meeting between the two teams during this year's Grand Prix, and the five-time champions ran away with the match 25-15, 25-19, 25-22 to underline their tag as favourites for the $200,000 first prize.
The signs looked ominous for Brazil when Russia's 2.02-metre points machine, Ekaterina Gamova, rose majestically on the very first point to break through the Canary yellow defence.
But Brazil quickly got their block together, and scored five consecutive points from 3-4 down to 8-4 up at the first technical break. The serving of Fabiana Claudino produced some untidy serve reception from Russia, and Sheilla Castro capitalised on the right flank.
Yulia Merkulova ended Russia's barren spell with a clean winner at the net, but the Europeans could not build any attacking momentum and needed a TO when falling behind 12-6.
The Russians were making too many errors, enabling Brazil to reach the second TTO with a comfortable seven-point cushion, 16-9, and Welissa "Sassa" Gonzaga resumed play with an ace to extend the lead.
A powerful spike down the middle from Lioubov Shashkova failed to throw Brazil out of their stride, and with setter Fofao conducting her attack expertly and Walewska Oliveira commanding the net, the two-time defending Grand Prix champions closed out the first set 25-15 in 20 minutes.
Russia kept Brazil in their sights longer in the second set, thanks to some dazzling winners from Merkulova and Natalia Safronova, and an ace by Shashkova which was badly misread by the Brazilian defence.
Brazil still looked more confident and slick, though, and Fabiana and Jaqueline Carvalho kept them out in front, piling on the pressure at the centre of the net and on the left flank.
Russia needed a TO trailing 18-14, and a cheeky winner from the in-form Fofao into space at the front of the Russian court moved Brazil ahead 20-15.
Fabiana brought up set point at 24-18 with a trademark strike at the net, and Castro fed off some more imaginative setting by Fofao to confuse the Russian defence again and close out the second set 25-19.
In the third set, Brazil's brilliant blocking, especially of Gamova by Carvalho and Walewska, backed up by some agile defence by libero Arlene Xavier, gave Brazil a three-point lead at the first TTO. Gamova was replaced when Russia conceded the next two points to fall behind 10-5.
Victory was in sight when Brazil led 16-9 at the second TTO, and an increasingly demoralised Russian team continued to make too many careless errors.
Safronova tried to lift her team with some well-placed winners from the left, but Brazil were too well organised and motivated to let this one slip. A back-court winner from Sassa moved the Canaries to the brink of victory, Walewska brought up match point at 24-19 and, after a late stumble, Fabiana finished it 25-22.