Montreux, Switzerland, September 8, 2018- The Group Phase at the 33rd edition of the Montreux Volley Masters came to a dramatic conclusion on Friday, as Turkey brushed aside hosts Switzerland in straight sets to top Pool A, before Russia & Brazil picked up vital closing wins in Pool B to progress to the semi-finals, thus eliminating luckless Poland.
But what can we take away from the three games as the 2018 semi-final line-up was confirmed?
Turkey progress with best record & show strength in depth
With two wins from their opening two games & already sure of a semi-final spot, Turkey coach Giovanni Guidetti took advantage of the opportunity to experiment with his side; captain Eda Erdem Dundar, leading scorer Meryem Boz, Meliha İsmailoğlu, and Cansu Özbay were all rested, and Hatice Gizem Örge (Libero), Beyza Arici, Seyma Ercan, Hande Baladin, Cagla Akin, Zehra Gunes, and Ebrar Karakurt all came into the fold.
With impressive cameos in earlier games, it was Karakurt who took her opportunity as the main woman in this one, notching 22 points including 13 spikes, three blocks, and six serve aces en route to the win as Turkey ran out Pool A winners. Wing Spiker Hande Baladin and Seyma Ercan also put in impressive performances, the latter of the two particularly so in the block as Switzerland struggled to establish a foothold against the defensive side of their game. There were still 25 errors made in the game, perhaps the Achilles Heel in their play as it helped the hosts stay in the game for longer periods, particularly in the third set, but Guidetti will be pleased by the various options he has to call upon in his team in the semi-finals should he require. They proceed to the semi-final with a record of three group wins from three, a maximum nine points, having conceded just one set (against China), and are in a good place as they prepare for a semi-final showdown with Russia on Saturday (08.09.18. 21:00 CET).
2. Russia rise to the big occasion to end Polish hopes
The scenario was simple for Russia going into their final match in Pool B with Poland. They had to win in four sets at least or Poland’s extra point would be enough to see them progressing instead, with Brazil already guaranteed progress in the event they claimed a predictable win over Cameroon. They managed it with a set to spare, the Sbornaya dispatching their opponents with a ruthless efficiency right when it was needed most.
It was their main points scorer Nataliya Goncharova who came to the fore again, notching 21 on this occasion as Vadim Pankov’s side swaggered into the last four at the expense of their opponents, whilst Wing Spiker Kseniia Parubets made a notable contribution of 11 individual scores. Middle Blocker Irina Fetisova, celebrating her 24th birthday, ensured it was a memorable one for the right reasons as she notched five points including four blocks, the highest defensive scoring tally of any Russia player.
As a collective, the Sbornaya team conceded a meagre 15 points to errors in play, a record that will hold the World Number Five seed in good stead going forward in the hunt for a medal.
3. Smarzek & co fail to deliver
With Jacek Nawrocki’s Poland side charged with the task of stopping Russia from winning within four sets, he looked to his big guns as star player Malwina Smarzek was recalled to the side having sat out the win over Cameroon to remain fresh for this do-or-die game.
Smarzek’s individual match tally of 31 points over five sets against Brazil remains the highest in any one game of the competition so far, but the Sbornaya showed that her impact can be nullified, as she was restricted to notching a modest 11 points over three sets in this match-up, which proved severe for the Poles as their ability to harm their opponents was hampered throughout. All Smarzek’s points came from spikes, and with a total of 33 attempts throughout the game (substantially less than against Brazil), she converted a third of the efforts that came her way; a reasonable return but a sign that she found opportunities limited this time.
Agnieszka Kąkolewska was another key performer that Poland needed a big performance from. She was their best defensive player with four points from the block, but remarkably she was one of a mere two players on the Polish side that registered any block points at all, the other coming from Zuzanna Efimienko-Mlotkowska’s solo block. With Poland’s defensive game caving in judging by the statistics, it is easy to see why the likes of Goncharova and Parubets were able to have so much joy in attack for Russia. This is a problem that Jacek Nawrocki will be keen to remedy immediately, and he has the perfect trial game in which to do it as Poland test themselves in the first of Saturday’s classification matches against China on Saturday (08.09.2018. 13:00 CET).
4. Brazil give nothing away & maintain ruthless streak against Cameroon
José Roberto Guimaraes’ defending champions Brazil did their bit to ensure they reached the semi-finals for the second year running with minimal fuss in defence of their title, comfortably seeing off Cameroon in straight sets.
Although the African champions came into the game and out of the game still yet to add a set to their names at this year’s competition, no one Brazilian player had a standout scoring game. Instead, Guimaraes sought to use the tie not only to make a statement of intent but to get his team into the habit of giving precious little away to their opponents before the semi-finals; his team giving away a mere seven points due to individual errors.
And with Cameroon’s style of play giving Brazil a welcome problem to test themselves against in erratic attacking aggression, including some quite remarkable rallies, it was interestingly a defensive player that topped the scoring charts on the night for the South American outfit; Adenezia da Silva notching 11 points, with five blocks (along with five spikes and an ace), as they benefited from eroding the edge away from the African attack. Adenizia was closely followed in the charts by Wing Spiker Rosamaria Montibeller, who notched 10 points to add to her string of already impressive performances at the 2018 edition of this competition.
Back to winning ways and rarely troubled in doing so, Brazil can look forward to tougher tests to come, as they prepare to rub shoulders in a semi-final clash of the titans with Italy on Saturday evening (08.09.18. 18:30 CET).
5. Winless Cameroon & Switzerland unable to break their duck
After straight sets defeats in their final group games against Turkey and Brazil respectively, Switzerland and Cameroon prepare to face each other in a consolation classification match on Saturday (08.09.18. 15:30 CET). It will comprise a clash of the tournament’s two bluntest sides in attack, either side yet to win a single set at this year’s competition.
Laura Kunzler and Maja Storck carried plenty of positives for the Swiss as they put in a spirited performance against Turkey, with an encouraging performance from rising star Korina Perkovac- who notched nine points- and also from Gabi Schottroff who was a handful at the net as she has been in each game so far.
Although unable to cause tangible harm to the Brazilians, Cameroon did find some joy in a collection of exciting rallies in their final group match, their primary attacking thrust coming through captain Christelle Tchoudjang Nana and Wing Spiker Laetitia Crescence Moma Bassako. These two players have confirmed themselves as the main outlet for Cameroon in each game, and it will be these two who they will look toward again if they are to finally take a set, or a remarkable first win at this tournament, in their debut year.