ACH Volley Ljubljana falls short of European final in decisive golden set

ACH Volley Ljubljana

The rematch of the CEV Challenge Cup semi-final took place at Narbonne Arena, where we watched the home team Narbonne Volley play against ACH Volley Ljubljana. Just like in the first match, we witnessed an extremely tense match in France, where Narbonne Volley's volleyball players were a shade better in the decisive golden set and thus enjoyed a place in the finals of the above-mentioned competition.

Narbonne – Arena Narbonne, spectators: 3000, referees: Brlas (Croatia), Herbots (Belgium).

NARBONNE Volley : ACH Volley Ljubljana 2 : 3  (17, 17, -28, -18, -13), golden set 15:9 for Narbonne Volley.

NARBONNE Volley: Bassereau 21, Socie, Uriarte 1, Jouffroy 2, Silva De Araujo, Gabin, Bouguerra 1, Durand (L), Zerba 16, Faganas, Duee (L), Zanotti 14, Ramos 10, Araujo 31. Trener: Fernandez Falasca.

ACH Volley Ljubljana: Pernuš, Šket 4, Rutar, Mašulović 13, Todorović 6, Peruničić, Okroglič 6, Kovačič (L), Gjorgiev 24, Pokeršnik 2, Videčnik 8, Kök 14.  Trener: Mladen Kašić.

The first set started with the Ljubljana team leading 4:2. An outstanding block by Todorović on Narbonne Volley's best attacker Araujo and a strong attack by Pokeršnik gave the Dragons a three-point advantage (6:9). The Narbonne Volley players woke up and quickly caught the guests and after some great initial shots by Zerba, they went into a three-point lead (12:15). The home players maintained their three-point advantage in the second half of the set (19:16) and secured a better position before the playoffs. A fierce attack from the increasingly playful Brazilian opposite Araujo gave the French an unassailable six-point lead (22:16) before the end of the set. With an excellent serve, the home players completely disarmed the Orange Dragons and won the opening set without any major problems (25:17).

Due to the injury of Pokeršnik at the very end of the first set, the second set saw a changed line-up of the Dragons, with Okroglič and Kök starting at the receiver positions, who entered the game at the end of the first set in place of the Šket. Too many missed serves by the ACH Volley players and a solid block by the French, led by Zerba, quickly pushed the home team back to a four-point advantage (11:7). After the break, the visiting coach Kašić had to intervene, but he was unable to change the course of the game. Narbonne Volley continued to play an outstanding game on serve and block-defence, increasing the advantage from point to point. With the score 17:10 in favour of the home players, it was more or less clear that the French team would win the second set. With another error on the reception, which was still the weakest point of the Orange Dragons, the set ended in favour of the French on the 17th point.

In the third set, the Ljubljana team also woke up and took a 6:3 lead on the wings of Gjorgiev and Kök. The Ljubljana volleyball team held the initiative until the second half of the third set and led by two or three points. In the playoffs, Narbonne Volley gained a two-point advantage (23:21), to which coach Kašić called for a half-minute break. This helped ACH Volley Ljubljana's volleyball players, as they tied the score at 23. Kök made a great block to defend the final ball, and then with strong initial shots he put the Dragons in the lead. After an error by the home players, the marathon set ended in favour of the Ljubljana players (28:30).

The opening of the fourth set passed in an even rhythm, with Narbonne Volley taking a two-point lead at the start and the Dragons tying the score with a successful attacking play. Araujo finished successfully for the French to lead 11:9, and Okroglic answered with an impressive series of initial shots (11:12). Coach Falasca intervened after the break (12:14), but he did not stop the Ljubljana team's onslaught. Okroglič continued with a great series of jump shots and the Orange Dragons' advantage was three points (12:15). In the second half of the fourth set, ACH Volley players dominated in all elements of the game and deservedly won 25:18 to tie the set.

In the fifth set, the visitors started better, leading 3:1, but the home volleyball team levelled the match on the fourth point. Okroglic again, with an outstanding series of serves, put the Dragons back in the lead (5:7). Todorovic's ace gave the Dragons a big four-point lead (7:11). The relentless home volleyball team came within a point (11:12) with an ace from Araujo, but the Dragons kept their nerve in the dramatic endgame to win the match 3:2, which meant that the golden set would decide their trip to the CEV Challenge Grand Final.

The home team got off to a better start, taking a 3:0 lead on the wings of Ramos (a successful attack and two aces), while Araujo's determined attack increased the lead to four points (5:1). Narbonne Volley maintained their four-point lead in the second half and, thanks to a successful attack by Ramos over the middle, they were getting closer and closer to qualifying for the final (11:7). Coach Kašić tried a timeout at 12:7, but the advantage was too big for the experienced French. On the wings of Araujo, they won the golden set and made the 3,000 strong crowd at the Narbonne Arena go wild.

Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana coach Mladen Kašić: "After the first two sets, which we played very poorly and didn't find ourselves in a beautiful atmosphere in front of a crowd of 3,000, we showed a completely different face and won three consecutive sets. But then we burnt out both physically and mentally in the decisive golden set. We cannot be satisfied with the start of the match, but we can be satisfied with what we showed in the continuation of the set. It was a pity that the first match in Ljubljana was already a disappointment, because with a more favourable result today we could have been looking forward to qualifying for the finals."

Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana player Matic Videčnik: "It was a very tough match. We were trailing after two sets and losing in the third set, but we came back and won the match after a hard fought battle. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to win the golden set, so for us the European competitions are over this year, which means that we will focus exclusively on the Slovenian championship."

ACH Volley Ljubljana player Matej Kök: "Definitely a very tough match in a great atmosphere on the road in France. We kind of lost the first two sets, but we pulled it out in the end and came back and showed real energy. We picked up in the game and they started to fall so we felt we had a chance. The last, golden set didn't go to plan from the start, unfortunately we ran out of steam a little bit, but we can still be proud of the three sets we won against a top Narbonne Volley team."