Imoco v VakifBank: International volleyball’s red-hot rivalry


Article Wed, May 18 2022
Author: Nikolay Markov
Nikolay Markov

This Sunday’s CEV Champions League Volley Super Final will offer yet another remake of international women’s volleyball hottest rivalry, that between the world’s two strongest club teams, A. Carraro Imoco Conegliano of Italy and VakifBank Istanbul of Turkey. While the Turkish side leads the all-time head-to-head series by three wins against two, let’s take a look back at all the important clashes between the two powerhouses in history.

VakifBank’s Isabelle Haak against Imoco’s Paola Egonu

When the first encounter between Imoco and VakifBank occurred some five years ago, the Turkish club was already an established international power. It was already one of the most decorated women’s teams of the 21st century and the holder of the Guinness world record for the most consecutive volleyball victories in all competitions with 73 wins in a row from October 2012 to January 2014 under the leadership of head coach Giovanni Guidetti.

Meanwhile, Imoco was still in the process of building its stronghold and as it made it to its first-ever Champions League final, the opponent it found there was none other than the mighty VakifBank in its full glamour. On April 23, 2017 in Treviso, Italy, Guidetti’s squad powered through to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-23) shutout of the Final Four hosts on a 22-point match high by Chinese star Ting Zhu to claim its third continental crown.

It was the last time the duel between these two adversaries was decided in fewer than five sets!

VakifBank and Imoco met again the following year, this time in a Champions League semifinal in Bucharest on May 5, 2018. With Croatian point machine Samanta Fabris leading the way with 28 putaways, the Italian side managed to come back from two sets down and push the tie-breaker into overtime, before the Turkish team could celebrate with another victory, 3-2 (25-22, 25-21, 17-25, 15-25, 16-14). Zhu was their best scorer again, with 24 points to her name. VakifBank went on to defend the title, triumphant with its fourth Champions League trophy.

At the 2019 FIVB Club World Championship in Shaoxing, China, it was finally payback time for Imoco. In a spectacular semifinal battle on December 7, the girls from Conegliano stood up to the defending world champions and persevered through an epic nail-biting tie-breaker to celebrate with a 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 23-21) victory. Fantastic young opposites Paola Egonu and Isabelle Haak had just joined the two clubs and their first head-to-head scoring race ended well in favor of the Italian, 38 points against 24. Imoco also went on to win the title, the first major international trophy in the club’s history.

It was just a few days after that Club World Championship triumph, when Egonu and her teammates started their amazing winning streak of 76 consecutive victories in all competitions that lasted through November 2021 and broke VakifBank’s Guinness world record from 2014.

That victorious run included one win over VakifBank as well, and that was in last year’s Champions League Super Final in Verona. On May 1, 2021, Imoco snatched the European title for the first time in its history. Coach Daniele Santarelli’s squad came back from a set down twice during match and also from a four-point deficit in the tie-breaker to rejoice with a 3-2 (22-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12) win. Egonu’s formidable tally of 40 points put her on top of the game’s best scorers chart, while Haak scored ‘only’ 33 times.

The most recent encounter between VakifBank and Imoco occurred some five months ago, on December 19, 2021. And it was another big final! Big in the sense that it was the final of the Club World Championship in Ankara, but also in the sense that it was once again pushed to five sets, and on the wings of another spectacular scoring race between Egonu and Haak. Egonu won that race again, by 34 to 26, but it was Haak’s team that celebrated with a 3-2 (25-15, 22-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-7) win and a record-breaking fourth world title.

So as Egonu and Haak meet face to face across the net again, at the Dvorana Center Stozice in Ljubljana on May 22, at 18:00 local time, one of the questions the sixth clash between Imoco and VakifBank has to answer is whether the Turkish side will edge further ahead in the series, claiming its fourth win over this opponent and a record-breaking fifth Champions league trophy, or the Italian standout will level the head-to-head and defend its continental crown.