Bari, Italy, September 18, 2018 – On Tuesday night, Serbia edged Russia at the tiebreak 3-2 (25-21, 24-26, 25-17, 22-25, 15-12), boosted by the outstanding performance of their opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic along with outside hitter Uros Kovacevic, who scored 23 and 21 points respectively. The players around head coach Nikola Grbic ended their journey in Pool C as runners-up to fly to Varna with four wins and 12 points to take into the second round of the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship.
Even though outside hitter Egor Kliuka and opposite Maxim Mikhaylov paced Russia with 19 and 16 points respectively, the reigning European champions had to be content with third place resulting from three wins and two losses to continue their campaign in Pool E in Milan.
In the most-anticipated matchup of the last day of competition at PalaFlorio, Bari, Serbia and Russia locked horns to determine who would finish second and third in the pool behind USA. The spectators who flocked to the venue enjoyed a veritable ‘Clash of the Titans’: Atanasijevic against Mikhaylov, Srecko Lisinac along with Marko Podrascanin against Dmitriy Muserskiy, as well as Uros Kovacevic, Nemanja Petric, Dmitry Volkov and Alexander Butko. There was plenty of elite players on the court to enjoy a great show.
Russia head coach Sergei Shliapnikov opted for captain Sergey Grankin instead of Butko with the task of orchestrating the Russian offense, while among the Serbians, Nemanja Petric did not feature in the starting six – with Kovacevic and Marko Ivovic as Serbia’s outside hitters. The match revealed to be very thrilling since the first spectacular rallies: the Russians increased the pressure with their serving to gain a slight advantage, before a double ace by Uros Kovacevic shortened the gap with the score standing at 16-13 for Russia at the second technical timeout. Nevertheless, Serbia mounted a comeback to draw level at 17-all. The Balkan team put up a real fight until Atanasijevic sealed a 25-21 win with an ace.
The Russian team responded by leading 8-5 and 16-11 at the technical timeouts of the second set. On the other side of the net, the men around mentor Nikola Grbic regrouped and managed to come back with the help of Ivovic. However, Russia could stand the pressure and finished it off at 26-24.
Atanasijevic kept on impressing the audience with his powerful serves, thus forcing Russia to trade throughout the third set. Shliapnikov changed his starting six sending out setter Butko, outside hitter Yury Berezhko and opposite Victor Poletaev, but the Serbians took set 3 at 25-17.
In what was probably the most exciting match of the whole pool phase in Bari, the Russians showed much resilience to catch up and eventually edge Serbia 25-22 in the fourth set.
A standing ovation by a passionate audience at the start of the tiebreak celebrated a dramatic battle between two titanic teams. Russia struggled to stop the Serbian attacks and Serbia came from behind to pull out a 15-12 win to celebrate a 3-2 victory over the tournament favourites.