Montreux, Switzerland, September 8, 2018- The 33rd Gold Medal Final of the prestigious Montreux Volley Masters will see Italy’s Azzurre and the Sbornaya of Russia do battle on the Swiss Riviera as both prevailed in two enthralling semi-final ties, the Italians toppling defending champions Brazil in a five-set blockbuster whilst Russia ended Turkey’s unbeaten record in four sets to advance to Sunday’s closing showpiece.
Earlier on Saturday, the two consolation games were played out as the teams that failed to qualify from their respective pools fought for the fifth to eighth place in this year’s Masters, as World Number One seed China salvaged some pride, sealing fifth with victory over Poland, whilst Cameroon scooped seventh place in a historic tiebreak win over hosts Switzerland to become the first African nation to not only feature, but win a game at a Montreux Masters competition.
Semi-Final 1: Brazil 2:3 Italy (25-19, 18-25, 25-22, 17-25, 12-15)
The first of the 2018 semi-final ties saw FIVB World Number Seven Italy take on defending Montreux Masters champions Brazil, and it was Davide Mazzanti’s Azzurre side that prevailed, twice coming from behind to win a five-set classic 2:3 (25-19, 18-25, 25-22, 17-25, 12-15) after tie-break to depose the champions & advance to Sunday’s Gold Medal Final.
It is the first time that the Southern European nation has reached the final of this prestigious invitational tournament since 2009, where they fell to the Brazilians in the final, but leading scorer Paola Ogechi Egonu, the 19-year-old who has carried so much of Italy’s hopes since her breakthrough into the national team, exorcised those demons here with a 32-point performance that helped clinch a game that will go down amongst the best to have been played out at this competition in recent years. Egonu was instrumental as Italy fought back from a set-down twice, veteran Lucia Bosetti and skipper Cristina Chirichella also on top form as the South Americans’ grip on the tie began to loosen, despite the best efforts of their potent attacking duo, Gabi Guimaraes and Rosamaria Montibeller. Having clinched a decisive lead in the fifth and final set, it was Miryam Fatime Sylla whose ice-cool touch over killed the game, sparking wild celebrations on the Italian bench as the raw emotion of reaching Sunday’s final began to register.
Semi-Final 2: Turkey 1:3 Russia (17-25, 25-20, 15-25, 21-25)
The last unbeaten record at this year’s Montreux Masters came to an abrupt and painful end as Giovanni Guidetti’s promising Turkey side were bested by Russia, the tournament’s leading points scorer Nataliya Goncharova returning to haunt the opposition, hitting a further 19 points to take her total tally on the Swiss Riviera this year to 70 and send Russia into Sunday’s Gold Medal Final.
Turkey will meet fallen champions Brazil as they bid to finish on the podium, and can take heart from a spirited performance where consistent performers Meryem Boz and Eda Erdem Dundar once again displayed encouraging form. But the deadly Goncharova held the aces for Russia, as Irina Fetisova exerted her influence defensively with six blocks, more than any other Sbornaya player. Coupled with the contributions of Nataliya Krotkova and Ksenia Parubets, there is reason to believe that Russia have more than enough in their attacking arsenal to cause Italy problems in Sunday’s final.
Dominating two of the opening three sets, Russia very nearly allowed the wily Giovanni Guidetti and his team through the back door, as he adjusted tactics to a more defensive game, which paid dividends as the ‘Sultans of the Net’ were more competitive in the closing stages of the first set before equalising by taking the second. But Turkey’s Achilles Heel, their susceptibility to individual errors, once more reared its ugly head as Russia punished their profligacy to take the third set, before labouring to a hard-earned fourth set win wrought with mistakes on both sides, the killer smash avoiding the despairing dive of Boz at full stretch to consign the day’s action to the history books and see the Sbornaya through, the Azzurre now the only obstacle between them and the title.
Classification (5th/6th place): China 3:1 Poland (25-23, 28-26, 21-25, 25-23)
FIVB World Number One China atoned for their premature exit from the 2018 Montreux Masters, giving themselves a welcome confidence booster ahead of the upcoming FIVB World Championships after running out 3:1 winners over Poland.
Aggrieved perhaps at their misfortune to be contesting the classification ties again in unlucky circumstances, Poland’s disappointment was confounded here as they ended their campaign with a whimper, Gong Xiangyu recapturing her best form as she struck 26 points to lift China to victory, whilst fellow attacker Duan Fang and Middle Blocker Hu Mingyuan also shone. A hard-fought third set that the Poles clinched, buoyed by their own talented duo of Malwina Smarzek and Agnieszka Kakolewska, was the only blemish on China’s game, but they recovered well in the fourth set to avoid the game slipping away, captain Liu Xiaotong an influential leader on court, as An Jiajie’s side closed out the fourth set and the game 25-23, converting match-point at the second attempt.
Classification (7th/8th place): Cameroon 3:2 Switzerland (18-25, 25-20, 11-25, 28-26, 15-1)
Tournament debutants Cameroon ensured that they bowed out of the 2018 Montreux Masters in style on Saturday afternoon, after coming from behind twice in their classification match to oust Switzerland and not only register their first set wins of their campaign, but write history as they became the first African nation to both play at and win a match at a Montreux Masters competition.
Laetitia Crescence Moma Bassako was the catalyst for this landmark victory, as her 18 points helped the Cameroonians overhaul a one-set deficit twice, whilst Stephanie Fotso Mogoung and Christelle Tchoudjang Nana also put in sterling performances as they eventually ground down a determined Swiss side, buoyed by an impressive performance from youngster Karina Perkovac, who has a bright future in the game if such form is a sign of what is to come. But this swansong from Cameroon was just reward for their positivity throughout the tournament, using the experience of playing against some of the world’s best talent as a learning curve, and their never-say-die attitude was paramount in this win. Having forced the tiebreak after denying Switzerland at match-point, they powered to a 15-1 fifth-set win in breathtaking style to depart the competition with pride.