ACH Volley Ljubljana failed to turn the game around - first defeat of the season

ACH Volley Ljubljana

In the first semi-final match of the CEV Challenge European Cup, we watched the home team ACH Volley Ljubljana and Narbonne Volley play in front of a crowd of over 1, 000 people at the Tivoli Arena. In an interesting match, Narbonne Volley were 3:2 better than ACH Volleyball and thus gained a better position to qualify for the CEV Challenge Cup final before the return leg next Tuesday in France.

Ljubljana - sports hall Tivoli, 1300 spectators referees Micevski (North Macedonia), Zyber (Germany).

ACH Volley Ljubljana : NARBONNE Volley  2 :3  (-23, -22, 28, 16, -10).

ACH Volley Ljubljana: Pernuš, Šket 5, Rutar 1, Mašulović 10, Todorović 5, Peruničić, Okroglič 1, Kovačič (L), Gjorgiev 23, Pokeršnik 14, Videčnik 13, Kök 5.  Trener: Mladen Kašić.

NARBONNE Volley: Bassereau 21, Uriarte 4, Jouffroy 1, Silva De Araujo, Gabin, Bouguerra 1, Durand (L), Zerba 11, Duee (L), Zanotti 10, Ramos 7, Araujo 25. Trener: Fernandez Falasca.

The opening of the match saw a restrained game on both sides, but the home team was the first to gain a significant advantage, leading 6:3. The French, thanks mainly to left-handed opposite Araujo, reduced the deficit and, after an ace by Uriart, levelled the score on the seventh point. The teams continued in an even rhythm, with an ace by Šket and a successful attack by Pokeršnik giving ACH Volley Ljubljana a new lead (11:9). The guests' most available player, Araujo, with an ace and an attack, made sure that the game was tied again at 11, and after two errors by Pokeršnik, coach Kašić intervened after the first half-minute break. The teams were evenly matched in the second half of the opening set, with Kovačič's outstanding defence and an effective counter-attack by Gjorgiev putting the Dragons into a minimal lead (19:18). An ace by the unstoppable Araujo for 20:19 put the French in a better position again, but they were a shade better in the playoffs and closed the set in their favour after the attack by the aforementioned Araujo.
On the back of their first set win, Narbonne Volley volleyball players took the lead at the start of the second set (2:6) with a great block. Zerba continued the pressure with excellent initial shots and increased the advantage. Despite the roaring support from the stands, the ACH Volley players could not rally and the scoreboard of the Tivoli Hall showed 12:5 in favour of the French team. Videčnik's excellent initial shots brought the Orange Dragons back to life and reduced the deficit to four points (9:13). This triggered a reaction on the Narbonne bench and a timeout. Two excellent blocks by Mašulović brought the Dragons even closer, to just a point behind (12:13). Again, a bad initial shot by Uriart brought the visitors to within three points (15:18), but Araujo took matters into his own hands in the playoffs, first with two attacks to give the visitors a four-point lead (18:22), and then with another attack to take a 2-0 lead in the set.

In the third set, we saw an even match on the court, with the visitors from France taking the initial initiative, but the Dragons woke up the fans and took a 14:10 lead after a Gjorgiev attack. However, it was a block by the French to Gjorgiev that evened the score at 14. Todorovic's strong serves gave the Orange Dragons another lead (16:14), but on the other side, a great block by the guests evened the score at 19. It was going to be a tense playoff, where every point could be decisive. Narbonne Volley got off to a better start (19:21) on Zerba's initial shot, which was answered by Kašić, the home team's strategist, who took a timeout. The break helped the Ljubljana players, as they caught their opponent until the end of the set and we witnessed a marathon playoff, in which both teams had a few final balls. After an attacking error by the visitors over the middle, the set ended in favour of the Ljubljana team.
At the beginning of the fourth set, we saw an even match. The Orange Dragons took the lead (9:6) quite quickly after two attacks by Gjorgiev, and a reaction followed on the French bench. The Orange Dragons increased their lead to four points after one rare mistake by a Narbonne point guard and to five points (13:8) after an ace by Kök. The Ljubljana players were determined that the fifth set would decide the final winner and they only stepped up the pace of the game (16:11), with a great block by Videčnik giving them an 18:12 advantage.

The Ljubljana players had a better start to the decisive fifth set and took a 3:1 lead. The French, or their best player Araujo, followed with excellent serves and attacks to tie the game and then lead by five points (3:8). The outstanding Brazilian didn't stop and continued in his own style, increasing Narbonne Volley's lead to five points (3:8). After the change of sides, a mistake on the initial shot by the aforementioned guest's setter was followed by a great play in the home team's block-defence to reduce the deficit to two points (6:8). In the end of the match, the visiting volleyball team showed more composure and gained a better position before the return match next Tuesday. 

Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana coach Mladen Kašić: "A beautiful volleyball performance, won 3:2 by the French, who are a complete team in all elements, from serving, receiving, passing and attacking. We were too tense in the first set. The opponent was very good and accurate on serve. We still had a lot of reserves here. We lost the first match, but there is a return match in France where we go to win."
Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana player Matic Videčnik: "We suffered our first defeat. Our opponent gained a decisive advantage on serve, where they were very aggressive, and our reception was not the best. I think that was the key to their success. We will look at all the analysis for the return match and I believe we will do well."