ACH Volley Ljubljana confidently reach the semi-finals of the CEV Challenge Cup

ACH Volley Ljubljana

The return match of the quarter-finals of the CEV Challenge European Cup in Ljubljana was a showdown between ACH Volley Ljubljana and A.J. Fonte Bastardo from the Azores. After a very convincing opening set, which the Ljubljanaers won 25-9, the visitors regained their composure and we witnessed a real volleyball treat, which ended in favour of the orange dragons (3-1), to the delight of the 450-head crowd.

Ljubljana - Tivoli sports hall, 450 spectators, referees.

ACH Volley Ljubljana : A.J. Fonte Bastardo Azores 3 : 1 (9, -27, 22, 21).

ACH Volley Ljubljana: Pernuš, Šket 13, Rutar 1, Mašulović 9, Todorović 1, Peruničić, Okroglič 10, Kovačič (L), Gjorgiev 27, Videčnik 10, Kök.  Coach: Mladen Kašić.

A.J. Fonte Bastardo Azores: Velazquez Escalante, Gomez, Bermudez 17, Neves 1, Cunha, Del Valle Villalobos (L), Cardoso 16, Goncalves 12, Gunthor 4, Ferreira Da Silva, Pereira 12, Valencia Gonzalez 6. Coach: Joao Coelho.

Šket made sure that ACH Volley Ljubljana had a dream opening right from the start, first with a successful attack and then with an outstanding series of initial shots (8:0). The fierce onslaught of the Orange Dragons was interrupted by the visiting strategist Coelha with a half-minute break, but to no avail. ACH Volley, undefeated this year, was the better opponent, disarming the visitors from the Azores with strong opening shots and a solid block. After an ace by Videčnik, the scoreboard of the Tivoli Hall showed 11-1. The guests from Portugal were unable to keep up with the exceptionally spirited Ljubljana team, which was already leading 17-4 after an attractive defensive action and a finish by the playful Šket. The set ended expressly in favour of the Ljubljana team (25-9) after another error by Fonte Bastardo's players.

In the second set, the Portuguese woke up and improved their serve receive game and their attacking efficiency. After a successful block by the increasingly visible Goncalves, Bastardo's players took their first two-point lead of the set (8:10). The guests maintained the advantage until Rutar entered the court and coach Kašić sent him to the service. With an ace, he managed to tie the score at 13. Both teams continued their fighting performance, and at 18:18, Kök came in for Okroglič and managed to pull the Dragons back to a two-point lead (20:18). On the other side, Bermudez came back with the same measure, hitting two successful baseline shots to even the score at 20, and triggered a reaction from coach Kašić by taking a timeout. This helped the home players, who escaped again with a two-point advantage (22:20). Fonte Bastardo's stubborn volleyball players did not give up and tied the score again (22:22). The match continued with an exciting ending, in which both teams managed to win the final balls, the third one being taken by the guests after a successful block (27:29) to tie the set.

The third set started with the Dragons taking a 3:0 lead after an Okroglič attack. Videčnik increased the lead to 6:2 with an ace, and Mašulović increased the lead to 8:4 through a first pace. Pedro brought the Portuguese closer to two points with an attack and then an ace (9:7). The continuation of the match showed that this was an extremely important set, and in a game of nerves the Orange Dragons managed to maintain a two-point advantage and entered the playoffs with a score of 20:18 after a successful attack by Gjorgiev, the ACH Volley Ljubljana point guard. The outstanding Gjorgiev made a block to increase the lead (21:18) and a half-minute break followed at the request of the guests. It bore fruit and the resilient Portuguese managed to close the gap to just one point (22:21). The Orange Dragons stayed composed in the final set and, after a successful attack by Šket, enjoyed the victory in the second set (25:22).

The fourth set started on ACH Volley Ljubljana's note, in which they led 3:0 after a successful attack by Videčnik through the first tempo. Bastardo volleyball players managed to settle the score on the fourth point with a successful block and soon afterwards they were up by two (5:7). Colombian setter Bermudez played in Fonte Bastardo's ranks, while on the Dragons' side the experienced Shket and Gjorgiev were the most available. It was the latter who, with a great parallel kick, led the Ljubljana team to a three-point advantage (12:9). The teams continued to play at an even pace, but the guests tied the score at 15. It promised to be an exciting continuation, where first a block by Videčnik and Todorović cut the home team's lead to three points before the playoffs (20:17), and the outstanding Gjorgiev finished from an impossible position for 22:18. The 33-year-old Macedonian didn't stop there and led the Dragons towards the European semi-finals (23:19). Okroglič secured the first final ball with a successful attack, and the game was decided in his own style, with a great diagonal shot by the now unstoppable Gjorgiev, the most efficient player of the game with 27 points.

Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana coach Mladen Kašić: "We won the first set a bit too easily, after which we thought for a moment that we would walk to the semi-finals. In the following period, our opponents improved their receiving game and became more efficient in attack, especially from zone four, where we were unable to stop them. I'm very happy with the fight and the attitude of the players, who were fantastic today." 

ACH Volley Ljubljana player Jani Kovacič: "We started very well. Even the opponent didn't expect us to play so well. We did a lot of work with our serves, and it showed later on when the opponent started to receive better. We expected them to play like that, but we gave our best and deserved to win 3:1. There were some mistakes today, which we don't often make, but we will correct them in the future."

ACH Volley Ljubljana player Nikola Gjorgiev: "I knew it would be a very difficult match, because we played against a very high quality team that changes their tactics from point to point, which makes them even more unfavourable. It was not easy for us, we had to calm our heads. We did a great job and I am very happy that we are through to the semi-finals. All the compliments to our team for a great job."