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Lupo and Nicolai warm up for Moscow with Italy’s first European gold

Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai followed up on their victories at this year's Fuzhou Open and Shanghai Grand Slam by winning gold at the CEV European Championship in Cagliari
Cagliari, Italy, June 8, 2014 - A screenwriter would hardly cope with the task of writing the plot of a more dramatic match than the final of this year’s CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship played on Sunday in Cagliari. The local heroes Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai eventually fulfilled their dream of home glory with a 2-1 victory over first-seeded Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia (21-19, 14-21, 17-15).

There was barely one seat left on the stands of the centre court for the gold medal match whereby a week blessed with sun and world-class matches came to an end. Lupo and Nicolai could stand the pressure and claim Italy’s first gold medal since the European Championship was established back in 1993. Samoilovs and Smedins, on the other hand, had to be content with silver as they had done already last year in Klagenfurt.

Bronze went to Austria’s Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst who upset reigning European champions Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira (18-21, 21-16, 15-12). Nicolai received also the award for the smart player of the tournament presented by CEV car partner smart.

The win continues the tremendous unbeaten start the Italian pair have made to 2013, having won the two previous FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour tournaments they had participated in April (Fuzhou Open and Shanghai Grand Slam) and sets them up nicely for next week's Moscow Grand Slam.

The ambiance was just great on Sunday afternoon as more than 2,000 fans had come together for the final act of the European Championship played this year on the white sand of Poetto beach. Daniele Lupo squared off on the sand as motivated as ever and before doing this he paid tribute to a young fan, Sasha Volodarskiy, the son of the Tournament Director of the Moscow Grand Slam and a die-hard fan of his, who had prematurely passed away a couple of months ago at the tender age of 12.

After this emotional introduction, the match got started in the very best way for the home guys who claimed their first two-point lead at 10-8; once again Lupo was absolutely outstanding in blocking while Lupo’s work in defence contributed a real Beach Volleyball show to the delight of the home crowd. However, their opponents showed no intention of paving the Italians’ way with gold and regularly hit back to keep the score close. It was – as expected – a match where two different playing styles were showcased: on one hand, Lupo and Nicolai mostly relied on their fine touches, whereas the Latvians were full of power and energy whenever they hit the ball. After another tie at 17, it was Nicolai who made the difference for the home duo with three consecutive points that propelled the “Azzurri” to a 21-19 set win.

However, their consistency dropped down quite dramatically in the early phases of the second set where they quickly trailed 8-4; the Latvians looked in full control of the game and displayed their wide array of combinations to widen their lead to as many as six points (13-7). Though the Italians tried hard to get back on track, they did not succeed in doing this, with many errors in serving and Lupo facing problems to stand the pressure as the Latvians regularly served on him.

After a speedy 21-14, the tie-break got started in a somehow critical way for the Italians who had to come from behind (6-4) as the ambiance was getting really “hot” on the stands. The score was finally drawn at 8-8 but again the Latvians broke away and by the time they had their first match ball at 14-13, Lupo asked for a medical time-out as he suffered cramps in his right leg. Back in action, and with the support of the noisy and passionate local crowd, Lupo warded off that match ball but the Latvians had another opportunity to win this much coveted European title before Smedins served on the net. At 15-15, it was again the moment for Nicolai to shine and two blocks by the MVP of the Championship sealed the 17-15 that added a piece of history for Italy’s beach volleyball family with their first European gold.

Once again, similarly to what he had done after the semis, Nicolai addressed the crowd saying “it was our dream and we made it come true with your help.” “This is the result of a long-term project,” he added after the awards ceremony, “and we are now on a winning streak of more than 20 matches if you combine this Championship with the two stops of the World Tour we had already won. Everything is working just fine for us right now and also in the difficult moments we kept confident that we would win this match. It was time to achieve this, now or never again. This is the kind of victory everyone can only dream about: you win European gold at home and in such dramatic way! We will now rest and celebrate for a couple of days and then travel to Moscow for the next Grand Slam. When you start winning, you want to continue the same way, it’s a good feeling that we want to get to experience again and again.”

Clemens Doppler had still much credit from last year’s European Championship in Klagenfurt where his home campaign had ended on the centre court with a torn ACL that prevented him from continuing the tournament. On Sunday, on the white sand of Poetto beach, Doppler and partner Alexander Horst got what they wanted, i.e. a European medal, after edging 2013 gold medallists Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira of Spain (18-21, 21-16, 15-12). This way Doppler could write history by becoming the first player to stand on the European podium with four different partners, namely Nik Berger and Peter Gartmayer with whom he had shared gold in 2003 and 2007 and Matthias Mellitzer, his partner in 2010 in Berlin where he settled for the silver.

Actually Doppler and Horst did not start that well and it seemed like they were still lacking energy at the beginning of the bronze medal match. Herrera and Gavira, on the other hand, started out strong (7-4) and widened their lead up to four points (14-10, 15-11); a late comeback by the Austrians helped them reduce the gap to one point (16-15, 18-17) but the Spaniards simply had more energy down the final stretch to bring it home at 21-18. The teams completed their side-outs up to 6-6 in the second set before Doppler and Horst broke away by scoring three straight points (9-6); Horst provided his contribution in serving and was well supported by Doppler, who accounted for the widest margin with a lucky ace (18-13). The Austrians held on to their lead and stretched the game to the tie-break (21-16).

The final set followed the same plot, with a very close start up to 6 all before the Austrians claimed a small break (10-8) and quite significantly it was Doppler who scored the last point to get his revenge after last year’s shocking injury in Klagenfurt (15-12).


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