Montreux, Switzerland, September 8, 2018- Volleyball fans around the world keeping in touch with the 33rd Montreux Volley Masters wait with bated breath for today’s games, as the tournament’s famous ‘Super Saturday’ finally gets underway with two classification matches between the eliminated teams preceding the main event of the semi-final ties; with places in the coveted Gold Medal final lying in wait for the winners.
China & Poland are up first in the classification games at 13:00 CET, followed by
Cameroon vs Switzerland (15:30 CET) where both sides are looking to win their first set of this year’s competition. The big semi-final ties then begin in the evening as defending champions Brazil face FIVB World Number Seven ranked Italy at 18:30 CET, before the late 21:00 CET match yields a potentially enthralling bout between unbeaten Turkey- who have conceded just one set all tournament-, and Russia.
But what can fans expect to look forward to on Super Saturday as we begin to enter the business end of this year’s Masters?
Azzurre aim to spring another surprise
Davide Mazzanti’s Italy are quite possibly the side that has improved the most over the course of the competition. After an opening day humbling in straight sets by Turkey and their Italian coach Giovanni Guidetti, the Azzurre have responded in emphatic style with two wins in straight sets of their own, stunning World Number One seed China before cruising past Switzerland in their last match. With defending champions Brazil lying in wait in the semi-final, the Italians now face another stern test, one that they must pass if they are to be in contention for the revered Gold Medal.
The Brazilians go into the match with a similar record, albeit with an extra point thanks to their one defeat coming after a tie-break against Poland, an extra point which proved decisive in sending them through as Pool B winners and into the tie with Italy. The South Americans took their maximum point wins against Russia and Cameroon, and with just one game standing between them and the chance to reclaim their medal here, we look set for an enthralling battle in the first of the semi-final ties.
Attack vs Defence: which will reign supreme?
As the World Number Four and the World Number Seven do battle in Brazil’s semi-final with Italy, the match throws up a showdown between one of the best attacks and one of the best defences in the tournament, and whichever can have the edge will go far in deciding which team will take their place in the final.
Brazil have four players atop the scoring charts who have notched in excess of 20 spike points each: leading markswoman Rosamaria Montibeller (31), Gabi Guimaraes (33), Drussyla Costa (24), and Fernanda ‘Fe Garay’ Rodrigues (24), thus there is little doubt as to their attacking potency. Yet, their ability to notch points from their defensive blocking game has also proven the bane of their opposition, and Rosamaria in particular has played her part in that side of the South Americans’ style of play, with six block points over their three group games.
Brazil’s best block-point scorer is Adenizia da Silva, who has notched 11 block points in a total individual tally of 19 so far in the tournament (the others comprising of seven spikes and an ace). Middle Blocker Ana Carolina da Silva has a total of 18 points, including seven blocks, nine spikes and two aces, whilst veteran Thaisa Menezes- whose distinguished presence at the net has been a welcome boost for Brazil at this year’s competition- has contributed four block points, seven spikes and two aces.
Up against that array of talent is an Italian side that went some way to proving its own strength in depth with their most recent group stage triumph over Switzerland, which saw them comfortably into the semi-finals. Leading scorer Paola Ogechi Egonu, the remarkable 19-year-old Opposite, was rested against the Swiss ahead of the semi-finals, having struck 32 points in the opening two matches (26 spikes, two blocks and four aces).
Italy’s other leading spikers possess more modest statistics when measured up against their Brazilian counterparts. Egonu is followed by veteran Lucia Bosetti (17 spikes), Middle Blocker Anna Danesi (12) and Wing Spiker Sylvia Chinelo Nwakalor (12), whilst captain Cristina Chirichella and Wing Spiker Serena Ortolani have both chipped in with ten. Defensively, however, the Italians all over the court have had substantially more joy in converting defence to attack through block points. Middle Blockers Ofelia Malinov and Anna Danesi predictably lead the way with five each, closely followed by Ortolani and Chirichella on four and three respectively. Miryam Fatime Sylla, who lead the scoring charts against Switzerland, has contributed three block points, whilst Marina Lubian, Lucia Bosetti, and leading scorer Egonu all have two.
Whilst Brazil come into the game with an array of spiking talent, Italy will be looking to shut their opponents out with their blocking game, and whichever can have the edge on the day in an intriguing contest for all watching will undoubtedly prove decisive in determining which of these teams will proceed to Sunday’s final.
Can Turkey maintain nigh faultless streak?
They may not be blessed with the leading scorer or the best defence of the competition, but Turkey do go into the last four boasting some impressive individual tallies and are the only team to remain unbeaten at this year’s Montreux Masters, shipping one set in the process.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t give anything at all away. Their Achilles Heel lies in the points they concede through their own individual errors, with 76 errors in total coming across their three games, the highest in a single match coming against China (31).
And it will be an aspect of their game that will require improvement if they are not to allow Saturday’s opponents Russia to exploit it in the semi-final. Russia’s record is slightly worse off than that of the Turks, with two wins from three in their Pool B games both in straight sets, their one defeat coming against defending champions Brazil after a four-set bout.
And with Russia having proved in their previous encounter with Poland that they can deliver when the occasion demands it, it will be fascinating to see whether they can put in another big game performance to ruffle the feathers of Giovanni Guidetti’s Turkey, who up to this point, have been relatively untroubled.
Devil in the detail as fine margins to decide semi-final
Although Turkey’s accumulative error statistics will be of concern, Giovanni Guidetti can rest assured that he can call upon one of the tournament’s more impressive attacks also. His leading points scorer, Meryem Boz, has hit 31 points in all, including 25 spikes. Captain Eda Erdem Dundar is one behind overall on 30, with 21 spikes. Ebrar Karakurt, the star against Switzerland, has 20 spike points in an overall tally of 29, whilst Zehra Gunes and Hande Baladin have hit 17 and 16 spikes each respectively, their overall tallies accumulating to 25 and 21.
Interestingly, just two of Turkey’s leading goalscorers are amongst their best block points scorers. Zehra Gunes tops the defensive points chart for the ‘Sultans of the Net’ with seven, Eda Erdem Dundar the other to feature, just behind with six. Seyma Ercan has racked up a total of four blocks for Turkey, with Beyza Arici, Meliha İsmailoğlu, Cagla Akin, and Ebrar Karakurt all on three.
But Turkey’s defence is going to have to be at its best to shackle Russia’s attack. They boast the competition’s leading points scorer this year, Nataliya Goncharova, who has notched a whopping 51 total of points with 45 spikes, four blocks and two aces. The Sbornaya have four other points scorers who have broken into the twenties, comprising of Wing Spiker Kseniia Parubets (29), Middle Blockers Irina Zaryazko (26) and Irina Fetisova (24), and the powerful Irina Voronkova (21).
Fourth highest Russian scorer Fetisova is also the Sbornaya’s best blocker with 11 block points, one of the best tallies of the competition, and the battle between her and Turkey’s attacking players is sure to be an interesting tussle for supremacy. She will be buoyed in her efforts by fellow Middle Blocker Irina Zaryazko, who has seven points from the block to her name, with leading scorer Goncharova the third highest points scoring defender with four.
Whether Russia’s defence can shut out the Turkish onslaught is one aspect, but with Vadim Pankov knowing that the Turks are prone to errors, if his potent attackers can exploit that weakness, they may just provide the 2016 Bronze medallists with their toughest test yet.
Can China resurrect their form against unlucky Poland?
An Jiajie’s China team have endured a disappointing Montreux Masters, exiting the group stage for the first time in three years having appeared on the podium in both 2016 as winners, and as Bronze Medallists a year ago.
With an experimental team named for Montreux ahead of the FIVB World Championships commencing at the end of September in Japan, some may have expected such a display. There has been some promise given the scoring exploits of Gong Xiangyu and Liu Yanhan, whilst Duan Fang and Middle Blocker Hu Mingyuan have also done well, which will be of encouragement going forward.
They will look to bow out of the Montreux Masters on a high, however, they will be facing a Polish side that will feel aggrieved to be contesting the classification games after going into the final round of group games top of Pool B, only to finish third after defeat to Russia. Jacek Nawrocki’s side are sure to give the Chinese a tough farewell test, with the potent Malwina Smarzek likely to feature, whilst defensive colossus Agnieszka Kakolewska and the lively Martyna Grajber will be looking to help shut-out China’s potent attack and do some damage of their own. A consolation game it may be, but it will be a battle between two decent sides, with Poland particularly keen to come away with the notable scalp of the World Ranking leaders to add to that of Brazil.