Lodz, Poland, December 15, 2017 – Two Bulgarian brothers, both playing professional volleyball and both playing at the FIVB Volleyball Men's Club World Championship, but not with the same clubs... With Nikolay Penchev competing for Poland’s Skra Belchatow and Rozalin Penchev for Argentina’s Personal Bolivar, it was an emotional encounter when the two teams met in a Pool B match in Lodz.
Living and working far away from each other, on different continents, they had not seen each other since the national team season ended in August and this Club World Championship gave them a rare opportunity to see each other offline, in the flesh, and give each other a brotherly hug.
“Weeks ago, when I found out that we would both be coming to this championship, my emotions were very strong. But approaching match time, one tries to concentrate and leave emotions behind,” said younger brother Rozalin after the game. “It was quite exciting to play against each other. At the beginning, when we came out on to the court, I was trying not to look at him, because I knew the emotions would pour out and I would lose control.”
Rozalin is 23 years old and is the identical twin brother of Chono Penchev, who is also a professional volleyball setter, currently playing with Italy’s Azimut Modena. Nikolay is two years older. Their fourth brother is the eldest, but unlike his siblings is not a volleyballer. Nikolay, Rozalin and Chono were born in Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria and started their careers at the local Victoria volleyball club.
“We sometimes comment on each other’s matches, but I would not give them advice, unless they specifically ask me about something,” said Nikolay. “They are already quite experienced, playing at a very high level.”
Following a number of outstanding achievements with Bulgaria’s youth and junior national teams, Nikolay Penchev has become a valued member of the men’s national team. Rozalin joined the Lions this past summer and quickly established himself as a regular starter alongside his brother. However, playing against each other is something that has happened only twice.
They also met a couple of years ago, again in Poland, when Nikolay was at Asseco Resovia and Rozalin played for Effector Kielce. On that occasion too it was the older brother's team which came out on top.
Speaking about the encounter in Lodz, Nikolay said: “I got a chance to get inside and play against him, so I am really happy, but also about the victory, which stamped our ticket to the semifinals in Krakow. So the score is now 2-0 in my favour.”
But in a conversation with them it is easy to see that the brotherly love and deep respect they feel for each other come above all.
“When we spoke before the match, I told him I was going to be happy if he got to play. Of course, I am happy that he and his team qualified for the semifinals,” Rozalin said. “I am sure if I were in his place he would be happy for me as well. I think, coming into play, Nikolay contributed quite a lot to his team’s victory, especially in reception and defence.”
“Our family didn't know which team to cheer for, so they cheered for both of us, saying ‘may the best one win’. Before the game our father wished both of us good luck. I guess for him it is a great pleasure to watch two of his sons play on the two sides of the net at such a high-level tournament,” added Nikolay. “During the match we did not speak to each other. We were trying to stay concentrated, but sometimes we would look at each other.”
However, everybody at the Atlas Arena knows that that last statement is not quite true. At a moment when the two teams engaged in a discussion over a referee call, the two brothers joined in, pointing and talking to each other. But they did it with a smile, under the applause of the spectators, who felt the emotion of the moment.
Unfortunately for them and their common supporters, the Penchev brothers could not get themselves into a win-win situation. With mighty Zenit Kazan having practically secured one of the top two places in the pool, only one Penchev could advance to the semis, and after Skra’s 3-1 victory, it happened to be Nikolay.
“We played a good game. We managed to recover from losing the first set,” he said. “I sure feel happy for making the semifinals. I feel a little bit tired, but I think the best is ahead of us.”
Rozalin’s team, however, failed to advance beyond the pool stage.
“I will have the opportunity to spend some time back home in Plovdiv around Christmas time, but first, after the end of this tournament, I am going to Italy to visit my twin-brother Chono,” he said.
Not knowing yet if he will have the time to join his family for the holidays, Nikolay added, “it is great that Rozalin and I managed to spend some time together here, in Lodz.”