European Champions League down to last four
With Robert Kromm and Australia's Paul Carroll on fire, scoring 25 points each, and Serbia's Aleksandar Okolic stuffing the Russians six times, Berlin outlasted Dinamo 3-2 (37-35, 22-25, 21-25, 25-15, 15-8) in Moscow, repeating the score of the first leg a week ago in Berlin.
It is the second time that Berlin will play in the Champions League Final Four after their 2015 bronze-medal appearance when they qualified as hosts of the event.
Meanwhile, Zenit shut out Belogorie in the Russian derby 3-0 (25-22, 30-28, 25-21) before 5,000 fans at the packed Cosmos in Belgorod. Zenit actually punched their ticket after cancelling four Belogorie set points to claim the second set, as they had won the first leg in the Tartarstan capital in four sets.
This is the seventh year running that Zenit will be in a Champions League Four. They will be going for their third straight and fifth overall title.
The usual suspects, Maxim Mikhailov with 16 points and Wilfredo Leon with 15 led Zenit, who outplayed Belgorie on the net and were also highly more efficient from the service line.
It was also all over after two sets in the Italian derby Thursday night, where Cucine Lube Civitanova obliterated Azimut Modena 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-18) at home before some 4,000 fans, repeating the score of last week at the PalaPanini.
The match came just a few days after Lube beat Modena 3-2 in the Italian League semifinals. They clash again on 19 April in the fourth game of that best-of-five series which Lube leads 2-1.
Tsvetan Sokolov of Bulgaria and Osmany Juantorena scored 13 points each for Lube, who outplayed Modena across the board.
The Champions League Final Four will be played 29 and 30 April at Rome's PalaLottomatica, with the winners qualifying to the 2017 Club World Championship, 11-17 December in Poland. Sarmayeh Bank Tehran as Asian champions and defenders of the crown Sada Cruzeiro Contagem as South American champions have already qualified to the world event.
Champions League semifinals on 29 April:
Sir Sicoma Colussi Perugia v Cucine Lube Civitanova
Berlin Recycling Volleys v Zenit Kazan
Defending champions on track in Poland
Defending champions ZAKSA Kedzierzyn-Kozle and last year's bronze medallists PGE Skra Belchatow will clash for this year's PlusLiga title in Poland, after both doubled their wins in the home-and-away playoffs. In fact this will be a rematch of the 2011 final (then played in best-of-five format) which Belchatow won with three wins to one.
Dawid Koniarski was top scorer with 13 points and MVP of the game, as Kedzierzyn-Kozle easily shut out Jastrzebski Wegiel 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-20) for the second time in a row to sail through to the final.
But Belchatow had to fight back. Having defeated Asseco Resovia Rzeszow in straight sets at home, Belchatow needed just two sets to qualify, but found themselves twice trailing by a set before 4,500 fans in Rzeszow before they managed to pick up the deciding fourth and then continue to a 3-2 (21-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 15-8) win. Both coaches brought in most of their reserves for the tie-break, after qualification had been decided.
Bartosz Kurek led a highly efficient attack and scored 23 points (including five aces) for Belchatow to earn the MVP award, as Resovia struggled with both their reception and attack.
The final will again be a home-and-away affair (with 'golden set' if necessary), on 19 April at Lodz's Atlas Arena (home of Belchatow) and on 23 April in Azoty Hall in Kedzierzyn-Kozle. The winners of the 2017 PlusLiga qualify directly to the FIVB Club World Championship as hosts of the event.
Trentino and Fakel eye other European titles
In other European Cups action this week, Diatec Trentino and Fakel Novy Urengoy took huge steps towards the titles of the second-tier CEV Cup and the third-tier Challenge Cup respectively, after both scored convincing wins in the first legs of the finals.
Slovenia's Tine Urnaut with 11 points and the Czech Republic's Jan Stokr with 10 powered Trentino to a 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-17) sweep of Tours VB paving the way for the return leg on Saturday in Tours, where the Italians now need only two sets.
It was a very one-sided event at the PalaTrento before 2,200 fans, as Trentino totally overwhelmed Tours in all skills.
It was an overall bad night for French clubs on Wednesday, as Fakel secured an away win of huge importance 3-1 (25-12, 15-25, 26-24, 30-28) over Chaumont VB 52. The home side missed the opportunity to send the match into a tie-break when they blew a set point at 27-26.
Stephen Boyer with 25 points for Chaumont was top scorer of the game, but Dmitri Volkov bagged 23 and Egor Kliuka added 17 for the Russians, whose dominance on the net countered for Chaumont's 13 aces.
Fakel now need just two sets at home on Sunday to claim their second European title after their gold in the 2007 CEV Cup (then third-tier).
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