Night of drama keeps suspense high in men's Champions League


Sergey Tetyukhin of Belogorie Belgorod gets blocked by Zenit Kazan's Aleksandr Butko and Aleksandr Gutsalyuk in European Champions League action.

Lausanne, Switzerland, April 5, 2017 - Defending European champions Zenit Kazan, Cucine Lube Civitanova and Berlin Recycling Volleys enjoy an advantage in the race for tickets to the Final Four of the men's European Champions League after a night full of suspense in the first legs of the last round of the Playoffs.

The Final Four, which qualifies one team to the 2017 FIVB Club World Championship next December in Poland, is scheduled for 29-30 April in Rome's PalaLotomattica with Sir Sicoma Colussi Perugia as hosts.

South American champions Sada Cruzeiro Contagem who will be defending their title and Asian champions Sarmayeh Bank have already qualified to the Club World Championship. They join the winners of the Polish PlusLiga as hosts, plus the national champions of two top countries in the FIVB World Rankings and two wild cards.

Lube pulled off the upset of the day with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-18, 29-27) away win over Azimut Modena which silenced the sellout crowd of 4,400 at the Palapanini. Lube now need just two sets at home next week to make it through.

For a minute in the third it seemed like Modena may have been in for a comeback, but Lube held on and after canecelling one set point of the home side finished the game on their own fifth match ball as Davide Candelaro scored the winning point.

Bulgaria's Tsvetan Sokolobv was once again the top scorer of the game with 17 points, with Osmany Juantorena attacking for 69 per cent (11/16) and adding another 15 - as many as Modena's Luca Vettori. It was no contest on the net, with Lube stuffing Modena 9 times (to four) and converting 40 of 65 swings for 62 per cent; Modena were left looking on a 45 per cent efficiency (33/73).

Dinamo Moscow were poised for a huge upset before the 5,400 Berlin Recycling Volleys partisan fans at the Max Schmeling hall when they went two sets up, but the German champions reacted to turn the game around for a 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-18, 15-10) win that keeps the question of qualification wide open.

Led by Australia's Paul Carroll with 26 points and 56 per cent (20/36) in attack plus 4 stuffs Berlin got the better of Dinamo when the final count came in. Konstantin Bakun's 18 points and Yury Berezhko's 17 for Dinamo were just short of clinching the game for the Russian side.

Earlier in the week, Zenit Kazan prevailed 3-1 (25-14, 25-17, 23-25, 26-24) in the all-Russian derby in the Tatarstan capital before almost 5,000 fans over Belogorie Belgorod and now need just two sets in the return leg to qualify to the Final Four.

Some rather creative shifting around of the team in the third set allowed Belogorie to stay alive, but Zenit did manage to pull together midway through the fourth to bring the match home.

Led by Maxim Mikhailov's 20 points and Wilfredo Leon's 17, plus 15 more from USA's Matt Anderson, Zenit dominated Belogorie on the net, outblocking the visitors 12 stuffs to 5 and attacking for 52 per cent (52/100) to 41 per cent (47/114).

The return legs, when tickets to the Final Four will be punched, are next week.

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