Russia and the Netherlands set to battle it out for Olympic berth
A large audience descended on Victory Park for the semifinals on Sunday as the hosts saw off Switzerland and the Netherlands beat Italy..
The first semifinal was a one-sided affair as the Netherlands needed only three matches to cruise past their opponents from Italy. Madeleine Meppelink/Sophie van Gestel and last year’s U23 European champions Michelle Stiekema/Riemke Braakman conceded only one set out of three games to Italy’s Daniela Gioria/Giulia Momoli and Laura Giombini/Viktoria Orsi Toth. After claiming their ticket to the final, the “Oranjes” followed the rest of the action from the stands.
The second semifinal was a closer match up, with a golden set needed to split the countries. Switzerland’s Isabelle Forrer/Anouk Vergé-Dépré opened the series by edging Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova in three sets, but the home side leveled the count after Evgenia Ukolova/Ekaterina Khomyakova stormed back to claim the tie-break in their match against Muriel Graessli and Tanja Goricanec.
Russia trailed again as Forrer/Vergé-Dépré downed Ukolova/Khomyakova in straight sets (24-22, 21-12), so Vasina/Vozakova had the responsibility to keep their Olympic dream alive by securing a win in their match against Graessli/Goricanec. They did so by cruising to a 15-10 win which brought the fans to their feet.
Russia coach Marco Solustri decided to opt for Vasina/Vozakova while Switzerland pretty evidently lined-up Forrer/Vergé-Dépré for that additional, deciding set. The home heroines set the pace for most of the time but their opponents were regularly able to claw back before Anastasia and Anna could cash their first match ball for the final 15-13 that fired up the Russian party in Moscow.
The final is a remake from last year’s deciding act of the Zonal Phase tournament in Kazan where the “Oranjes” prevailed and caused a major disappointment to the Russian beach volleyball elite. Russia will surely be out for revenge.