ACH Volley Ljubljana remains undefeated after a hard fought battle in the Azores
In the first match of the quarter-finals of the European CEV Challenge Cup, we watched the undefeated teams of this year, the home team Fonte Bastardo and the Slovenian representative ACH Volley Ljubljana, play off in the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After a two and a half hour duel, the Orange Dragons won for the 35th time in a row and thus secured a favourable result before the return match next Wednesday in Tivoli.
Praia da Vitória - Complexo Desportivo Vitorino Nemesio, spectators: 200, referees: Akbulut (Turčija), Robles Garcia (Španija).
A.J. Fonte Bastardo Azores : ACH Volley Ljubljana 2 : 3 (23, -19, 24, -21, -6)
A.J. Fonte Bastardo Azores: Velazquez Escalante 5, Gomez, Bermudez 16, Neves, Cunha 2, Del Valle Villalobos, Cardoso 20, Goncalves 3, Gunthor 4, Ferreira Da Silva 9, Pereira 10, Valencia Gonzalez 6. Trener: Joao Coelho.
ACH Volley Ljubljana: Pernuš, Šket 12, Rutar, Mašulović 16, Todorović 1, Peruničić, Okroglič 11, Kovačič (L), Gjorgiev 24, Pokeršnik 5, Videčnik 6. Trener: Mladen Kašić.
The home team opened the match better and after a series of unlucky initial shots by the German Bastard Günthör, they took a 4:1 lead. ACH Volley Ljubljana's volleyball players quickly caught the lead with better offensive play and tied the score on the fourth point. The teams continued in an even rhythm, but the Dragons took their first lead after a mistake by Fonte Bastardo volleyball players (8:9). After a successful attack by Gjorgiev, the Ljubljana volleyball players escaped for the first time by three points (11:14), followed by a reaction on the home bench and a half-minute break at the request of coach Coelho. The break was good for Bastardo's volleyball players as they managed to tie the score on Velazquez's serve and then took the lead (15:14). Bastardo's players continued to play well on defence and put pressure through their initial shots. An ace by Goncalves brought the home players within three points (18:15). ACH Volley's volleyball players could not catch up with their rivals and at 21:18, after the second half-minute break, the visiting coach Kašić intervened. In the playoffs, ACH Volley Ljubljana volleyball players managed to close the gap to one point (22:21) with two successful attacks by captain Pokeršnik, but the excellent receiver in the ranks of Bastardo Cardoso with an outstanding attack made it 23:21 in favour of the home team. Gjorgiev made it difficult for the opponent with his strong serves and the Ljubljana volleyball team tied the score at 23. However, it was not enough, as the set ended in Fonta Bastardo's favour (25:23) after an attacking error by the aforementioned Macedonian opposite hitter.
The second set started with the Orange Dragons taking a 4:1 lead on Videčnik's serve. The guests continued to play aggressively on serve and did not allow their opponent to play (5:9). After a great block by Mašulović for a five-point lead (7:12), home strategist Coelho called for a timeout. Even after the break, Videčnik continued with his excellent serves to increase the lead to 13:7. An ace by Gjorgieva gave the Dragons an unassailable six-point lead, which they maintained and won the set on 19 points after a successful attack by Mašulović.
Similarly to the first set, the home team started the third set better. They pulled away in a flash on Günthör's serve to take a five-point lead (6:1). The multiple Slovenian champions regained their balance on the court and reduced the deficit to two points (9:7). The ever-improving block-defence and great balls from the Ljubljana setter Todorović brought a turnaround and a lead for the Orange Dragons (12:13). The nervous continuation, in which the home players Cardoso and Valencia Gonzalez played, showed that we were watching a game of big stakes. The latter, with two successful attacks and an ace, gave the home team a 17:15 lead. After two fierce attacks by the again lively Gjorgiev, the Ljubljana players managed to tie the score at 19. However, the home team entered the playoffs with a two-point lead (22:20) on the wings of the excellent Cardoso. Okroglič tied the score with a successful attack on the 22nd point and it was going to be an exciting rest of the set. The outstanding Okroglič kept the ACH Volley players in the game with two more successful attacks, but it wasn't enough - Valencia Gonzalez hit an ace to give Fonte Bastardo a 2:1 lead in the set.
The fourth set started with the Ljubljana team leading 3:1. A.J. Fonte Bastardo's volleyball team responded to this and, with excellent defensive play and efficient attack, went 4:3 up and later increased the lead to three points (6:3). A timeout at the request of coach Kašić woke up the Orange Dragons (7:6). The unstoppable Cardoso continued to impress the gathered fans, first with a block on Gjorgiev and then with an offensive rebound to take a three-point lead (9:6). The Bastardo volleyball players continued their excellent play and dominated in all elements of the game, leading by four (14:10). However, the Orange Dragons also woke up. Unfavourable initial shots by Videčnik brought ACH Volley Ljubljana back into the game, and with a very sacrificial play they managed to tie the score and soon after to take the lead (15:17). The resilient Portuguese team managed to tie the score again and after a successful attack by Cardoso, they went ahead by a point (18:17). Okroglič, who continued to be in good spirits, gave Ljubljana another lead, which was increased to two points by Videčnik with an outstanding block (20:22). Another block by Videčnik gave the team a 23:21 lead, and a successful triple block won the fourth set and tied the match at 2:2.
The decisive fifth set started in a dreamlike way for ACH Volley Ljubljana. After a series of initial shots by Skete, they led 4:0. The home team from the Azores made it clear that they were not going to give up, as they reduced the score to two points (3:5). By the time the sides changed sides, ACH Volley had again managed to escape with a four-point lead (4:8). Determined to return to Ljubljana with a win, they only increased their advantage with a solid block and a successful attack (4:11). The doubts about the winner were over when Mašulović, with a fierce attack, made it a seven-point lead (5:12), and Šket closed the game in favour of the Ljubljana team with a successful attack (6:15).
Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana coach Mladen Kašić: "A nice win against a good and very fighting Fonte Bastardo team. We had problems in the first set, as we served too many times to their free player, which was not part of the agreement before the match. A great win and a great concentration from the players after being 2:1 down in sets. We made a big step and did a great job, but we will have to finish it in the return match in Ljubljana."
Statement of ACH Volley Ljubljana player Jani Kovacic: "Today was a very nervous match. It was a very jovial game, which was noticeable for us on the court. The opponent was very relentless and didn't give up until the last. In the fourth set they were already leading 10:6, but we showed real character and won both sets to the end of the match."
Statement of ACH Volleyball Ljubljana player Jureto Okroglič: "We knew it would be a tough match and that we would face a good opponent. We conceded the first set after taking the lead and lost it. It's good that we came back after the deficit and that we are returning to Tivoli with a win."
ACH Volley Ljubljana player Nikola Gjorgiev: "A very difficult match is behind us. I knew it was going to be tough after watching the video content and also considering the fact that they are in first place in the Portuguese championship without a defeat yet. We had to be patient because our opponent plays great defence. We were nervous a few times at the beginning. In the end, we showed our quality and won an important game."