Montreux, Switzerland, September 9, 2018- Day Five of the Montreux Volley Masters and its famous four-match Super Saturday line-up gave us four brilliant matches to whet the appetite, and we weren’t disappointed with the drama on show as Italy & Russia produced spellbinding performances to knock out defending champions Brazil and unbeaten Turkey, whilst there were notable classification victories for Olympic champions China, and African champs Cameroon.
So what can we take away from Day 5 at the 33rd edition of this invitational masterpiece as the Medal match line-up was finally confirmed?
Egonu holds the aces for Italy
The Azzurre have already proven in their final group win over the Swiss that there isn’t necessarily on overreliance on 19-year-old Paola Ogechi Egonu, but the leading scorer for the Italians proved the difference in their win over Brazil, notching 32 points over the five sets, including 25 spikes converted in 64 attempts, to go with five block points and two aces.
Her semi-final points plunder takes her Montreux Masters tally this year up to 64 points, her latest exploits the most crucial of all as Davide Mazzari’s team edged Brazil in a brilliant encounter, narrowly beating the defending champions with a marginally better display on the day, coming from behind twice to do so. Egonu’s points tally and infectious influence makes her a player with a cool head on young shoulders, and largely the inspiration behind this latest win.
Mazzari and his players will be undoubtedly looking to her for one more telling impact as they brace themselves for the final, where Russia lie in wait.
Lethal Goncharova packs all the punch for Russia whilst defence excels
Little needed saying about the impact of Nataliya Goncharova for Russia going into their semi-final with Turkey. The leading scorer of this year’s competition was at her potent best once again on the big occasion against Turkey, as Vadim Pankov’s Sbornaya dispensed with Giovanni Guidetti’s promising side to put pain to the only remaining unbeaten record left at the tournament.
Goncharova’s semi-final performance keeps her firmly atop the scoring charts at the 2018 Masters, her total tally now comprising of a monumental 70 points, including 63 spikes, five blocks, and two aces, after hitting home 19 points here.
Although Nataliya Krotkova was Russia’s next best attacker in the win over Turkey, notching 13 points, much can also be made of the impact of Irina Fetisova, who registered the joint--highest individual block points tally in the match (5- level with Turkey’s Eda Erdem Dundar). Her performance in the Middle Blocker position shows that her impact for the Sbornaya cannot be underestimated either, despite Goncharova taking the majority of the plaudits.
Turkey exposed at the worst possible time as unbeaten record goes begging
The 2018 Montreux Volley Masters may still yield a medal for Giovanni Guidetti’s Turkey, but it is once more a case of reflecting on what might have been for his side as their unbeaten record finally met its end on the big occasion as they were outclassed by Russia after four sets.
Although the experienced duo of Meryem Boz and Eda Erdem Dundar were both instrumental again for the ‘Sultans of the Net’, accumulating a combined 34 points for their side, the remainder of the team failed to step-up on the big occasion, perhaps owing to their lack of experience, the next best scorer, Hande Baladin, only managing six. Defensively, Turkey were also exposed against the attacking power of Nataliya Goncharova and Nataliya Krotkova, as the duo seized a combined 32 points whilst Turkey managed a meagre seven block points in response all match.
In fact Russia’s match point summarised who had delivered on the occasion for Turkey as they bowed out of the semi-final, with Meryem Boz’s despairing dive the one beaten by the killer spike. She and her captain Dundar, gave everything, but it was not a good enough performance as a collective, Russia forcing 26 errors out of the Turkish side as their tally of in-play mistakes still posed a problem.
There are still plenty of positives to take from a semi-final learning curve against one of the tournament’s most potent attacking forces, and they can take such encouragement into the Bronze Medal match against Brazil as they look to depart Montreux with a podium finish.
China restore confidence with Gong Xiangyu still a threat
The early exit of An Jiajie’s Chinese side may have raised several eyebrows, but they went some way towards winning over their doubters in their classification match as they ran out winners against Poland over four sets.
Wing Spiker Liu Yanhan and young Middle Blocker Hu Mingyuan were instrumental in the victory, but star player Gong Xiangyu recaptured her best form and made a telling impact on getting the result this time, striking 26 points against the Poles to reignite her team’s confidence ahead of the up and coming FIVB World Championships. Still seeded at Number One in the FIVB World Rankings, they are sure to be one of the favourites despite showing their quality in fits and starts on the Swiss Riviera, but having named an experimental side with a blend of young players, including the uncapped Meng Zixuan, such a performance could perhaps have been expected. With Gong at her best, however, China may just go further in Japan.
Cameroon make history
It was fourth time lucky for Cameroon on their first appearance at the Montreux Masters as they came from behind twice to win their first sets, and first game, at the competition following a tie-break win over hosts Switzerland.
Laetitia Crescence Moma Bassako was the catalyst for the win in the Wing Spiker position, notching a remarkable 18 points, whilst Cameroonian skipper Christelle Tchoudjang Nana, and their other Wing Spiker, Stephanie Fotso Mogoung, also impressed. They have been far from disgraced even in their defeats, and they have gone some way to proving that they are capable of competing at such a high level with this result, as they also look towards the upcoming FIVB World Championships.
It was just reward for Cameroon’s refusal to give in, fighting back a second time to deny Switzerland and match point and clinch the fourth set 28-26 to force a tiebreak, before racing clear with their new-found momentum to cost the fifth set 15-1 and claim the first win at the tournament for an African team, sparking wild celebrations on the bench from coach Jean Rene Bekono Akono and his staff as they depart the shores of Lac Léman with a piece of history.