Montreux, Switzerland, 07. September 2018 - Vadim Pankov’s Russia were victors in their do-or-die Pool B clash with rivals Poland on Friday afternoon, running out 3:0 (25-16, 27-25, 25-18) winners to book their place in the 2018 Montreux Volley Masters semi-finals, leaving Poland’s hopes of progression in the balance and needing Brazil to fail to beat Cameroon in the 21:15 CET fixture to avoid being eliminated from contention at the time of writing.
Nataliya Goncharova was the architect of Poland’s downfall, scoring 21 points for Russia as they kept their rivals at bay throughout the contest in a high octane atmosphere, whilst it was a memorable day for teammate Irina Fetisova who celebrated her 24th birthday in perfect fashion by helping her team to their vital win.
Russia knew that they needed victory within four sets at minimum to at least temporarily top Pool B but also to confirm their progress onward to the semi-finals, and they did it with a set to spare despite Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki handing a recall to his leading scorer, Malwina Smarzek, who spent the duration of Poland’s previous win over Cameroon on the sidelines.
The first rally set an unmistakable tone for the match to come, the ball fiercely exchanging between the halves of the court with determined and precisely-directed violence. Mere occasional glances at the scoreboard throughout would be sufficient for one to identify the importance of this match and the rivalry perfusing the air above the net. With four of the top five scorers in the game being members of the Sbornaya, Russia planted themselves firmly atop a secure lead, eyes locked on the prize of a vital four-set minimum victory during the delivery of a succession of cruel spikes. Such determination and momentum paid off at set point, 25-16 to Russia after an impressive performance from Wing Spiker Kseniia Parubets.
The Poles, however, did not delay in reminding the Russian giants that the game would not be stolen so easily, establishing an early five point lead in the second set, Smarzek having announced her presence with startling alacrity after a somewhat slow start. The following rallies delivered nail-bitingly tight action, with Polish players defiant and desperate to establish a foothold in the game as both sides drew towards twenty points. The crowd grew increasingly restless as a 25-25 score came about thanks to respectable attacking from Polish Wing Spiker Martyna Grajber. Despite this, Poland were unable to take advantage, their efforts scuppered by the defensive masterclass of 29 year-old Nataliya Goncharova. A reception error for Poland following an aggressive spike from Russia’s birthday girl Irina Fetisova served a fitting close to the set, lifting Russia into a 2-0 lead with a 27-25 second set win.
Two sets down, a satisfyingly smug third-set dump over the net from Plesnierowicz signalled the Poles’ initiation of more deft tactics. Nonetheless, general untidiness of play by their younger squad against the more experienced and organised players from the Federation meant that they fell further behind. Wing Spiker Irina Voronkova distinguished herself in the closing rallies as a key component of the Sbornaya’s winning mechanism, keeping a peerlessly cool head to end many long and difficult rallies with Russian points by delivering the ball to 21-point table-topper Nataliya Goncharova for the killing blow. Repeatedly, it was simply the power of spikes delivered by Goncharova, sending balls down onto court and high into the stands and, one occasion, triggering the whipping away of Polish heads to avoid impact, that shattered a mid-set gridlock into fragments that then crumbled along with Poland’s slowly ebbing away hopes in a 24-18 set-point Russian domination of the late game that, was promptly killed off as the ball hit the net on the Polish side of the court for match point at 25-18.
With this victory, the Russians secure a place in the semi-final, leaving Poland needing a Cameroon victory (the African team having won no sets so far in the tournament) against Brazil at 21:15 CET tonight to avoid elimination.