Canada claim historic Russia win to open up Pool E
In three previous matches between the two countries, Russia had won them all - one in five sets under the old scoring system and two in straight sets at the 1999 World Cup and 2006 World Championships.
Canada now join Korea (2008) as the only team in the last 15 years to come back from two sets down to beat Russia in the World League and the Canadian victory throws Pool E open with Russia, who beat Brazil in five sets on Wednesday, missing out on the chance to confirm a spot in Saturday's semifinals.
Considering Russia’s pedigree and form, prematch predications had the two-time World League champions has strong favourites against a country making its World League Finals debut and that was exactly the tone of the start of the match.
Canadian 24-year-old Rudy Verhoeff had the honour of taking the opening serve of the match but it was Russia who continued in the same vein as Wednesday’s opening victory against Brazil with Evgeny Sivozhelez scoring the first point of the match.
It was Dallas Soonias who scored Canada’s first points of the World League Finals but by then Russia had scored three. Canada also made the first challenge at a World League Finals when they challenged a net touch but it was unsuccessful as they trailed 6-2. Russia soon lead 16-10 courtesy of a customary Dmitriy Muserskiy block before Canada coach Glenn Hoag called on the tallest player in his squad Gavin Schmitt at 2.08m to replace the unusually inconsistent Soonias. The North Americans soon pulled their way back to 19-17 with Schmitt and John Gordon Perrin, who went on to top score in the match with 20 points, starting to fire on all cylinders before Russia struck back – Nikolay Apalikov sealing the set with a centre court spike 25-20.
Despite the first set set-back, Canada continued their momentum in the second leading 5-2. Russia pulled back to 9-9 with Muserskiy devastating at the net and Alexey Spiridonov efficient in attack but it was until Russia finally gained the lead at 19-18. This signalled the first appearance in the match of Maxim Mikhaylov before he was subbed again at 20-19 without touching the ball however it seemed to spark Russia into a run with Spiridonov and Sivozhelez spiking successfully before Schmitt spiked long giving Russia the second set 25-21.
Canada, whose previous best finish in the World League was seventh in 1992, were really fighting above their weight at this stage, keeping level with Russia throughout the third set. While Spiridonov, Sivozhelez, Muserskiy, Nikolay Pavlov and co were going through the gears, Schmitt, Perrin and Winters gave as good as they got and soon the underdogs held a 22-20 lead. Russia successfully challenged a spike in to make it 22-21 but Schmitt was Canada’s go to man with a cross court spike before Winters finished a terrific rally with his own attack to seal Canada’s first ever set win against Russia in the modern scoring era.
The oldest player at the World League Finals, Canadian libero Daniel Lewis, 37, along with Winters defended like demons at the back court and as try as much as Pavlov and Muserskiy tried to break down the Canadian block, the underdogs soon snatched a second set-win after Muserskiy served disappointingly into the net.
Even with the match tied at two sets apiece, the feeling within the Esdtadio Islas Mavinas was that Russia would finally pull rank and complete the victory and at 7-3 up, it certainly seemed to be the case however, Canada – who had a best finish of seventh (1992) in the World League – weren’t to be overawed. They slowly pulled it back to 7-7 thanks to blocks by Adam Simic and Graham Vigrass before some great serving from Verhoeff put Russia under severe pressure. An ace, a spike wide by Sivozhelez, a bad reception by Spiridonov and a Simac block gave Canada match point 14-10 on Verhoeff serve. Russia saved one match point before Joshua Howatson blocked the final point for the historic celebrations to begin.
The win sees Canada extend its national record to nine World League victories in one year. Its previous best was six wins in 1992. After a 2-2 start to the 2013 campaign, Canada now has a national record seven-match World League winning streak.