Clash of brothers and fantastic matches headline high-octane #CLVolleyM quarter-finals


Article Mon, Feb 19 2024
Author: Adrian Costeiu

The first part of the CEV Champions League 2024 Men has provided us with one answer – a new champion will be crowned at the end of the Super Finals, after Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn-Koźle, the winner of the past three seasons, was eliminated in the play-offs by Halkbank Ankara.

Eight teams are now set to challenge for the big prize in the Super Finals, as only two of them – Trentino Itas and Cuclne Lube Civitanova – have previously won the trophy over the past decades. 

With three Italian sides, two Turkish teams and one team each from Poland, Germany and Spain, the battle for the trophy is wide open, with only one team - Ziraat Bank Ankara – still undefeated before the start of the quarter-finals.

Undoubtedly, Ziraat Bank Ankara will be overwhelming favourites against debutants Guaguas Las Palmas, which have lost four matches already, and needed a golden set against VK Lvi Praha in the play-offs to secure their maiden appearance in the quarter-finals of the European premium competition.

Ankara might have lost six sets already, but they swept Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn-Koźle in Round 4, on their way to the best performance in that phase of the competition, which set them up to this quarter-final, their maiden appearance between the top eight teams in a season.

While Las Palmas are underdogs, they secured three wins out of four matches on their home court, including and impressive 3:1 win over last season’s runners-up, Jastrzębski Węgiel, as Francisco Wallyson Bezerra Souza (188 points) and Paolo Zonca (181 points) had excellent performance throughout the season.

Zonca has the most aces served so far, 25, in this season, and is the focal point of Las Palmas’ attack, as another shock here would see Guaguas become the first Spanish team in history to reach the semi-finals of the CEV Champions League Men, especially as they have started the competition early, in the 1st round.

There are three heavyweight clashes following, but a highly entertaining one will be pitting together two of the candidates for the title – Halkbank Ankara and Cucine Lube Civitanova, with the Italian side aiming to return to the semi-finals of the European premium competition for the first time since the 2018/19 season, when they won the coveted trophy.

It is a rematch of last season’s quarter-final, when both sides secured a 3:1 win on their home courts, with the golden set going into Halkbank’s way, 15:12, as the Turkish side made it to the semi-finals.

The road to another semi-finals berth does not get any easier for Halkbank, which have already dropped three matches this season, but they bounced back after their 2:3 loss in the first leg of the play-offs against Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn-Koźle to take a 3:0 home win and progress to the next phase.

It will also be a special match for the Lagumdzija brothers, with the two hitters facing off in the clash, as opposite Adis signed last summer for Lube, while outside hitter Mirza, the younger brother, joined Halkbank also in the summer of 2023.

“This situation makes me proud. Being rivals with my little brother is also important for our family. But we are professionals and I will do my best to pass the tour, even if it means upsetting my brother,” said Adis Lagumdzija.

On the other hand, Halkbank are still dreaming about their maiden trophy in the CEV Champions League Men and have plenty of talent at their disposal, with last season’s top scorer, Nimir Abdel-Aziz, shining once again, with 158 points in the first eight matches.

“We came together as a team and advanced to the quarter finals by eliminating the champion of the last three years. Our competitor is Lube. They have very important players, including my brother. We also have very important weapons and, more importantly, team play. We want to go to Italy with an advantage by winning with a clear score in front of our audience in Ankara,” adds Mirza Lagumdzija.

This will be the seventh clash between Berlin Recycling Volleys and Trentino Itas, with the Italian side taking four wins and aiming for their fifth, as they aim to return for the semi-finals of the European premium competition, after previously winning three of the four quarter-finals they played.

The two sides have also faced off in the quarter-finals in the 2020/21 season, when Trentino took two wins, 3:1 and 3:0, as well as in the 2021/22 season, when the Italian side also clinched the semi-finals berth, with a 3:0 home win and a 2:3 away loss.

While Trentino have won five of the six matches they played, Berlin had to navigate through a turbulent season – they finished third in their pool, but bounced back and dominated Tours VB in the play-offs, clinching two clear wins, 3:0 and 3:1, to set-up their third quarter-finals clash against Trentino in the past four years.

The last semi-finalist will be decided after the clash between two pool winners, Gas Sales Daiko Piacenza and last season’s runners-up, Jastrzębski Węgiel, with Piacenza aiming to become the first rookies in a decade to clinch a semi-finals spot, after Halkbank Ankara did it in the 2013/14 season.

Yet the challenge for the Italian team is high, especially as Jastrzębski Węgiel have the experience on their side, after making it to the penultimate act of the European premium competition in the last two seasons.

Both sides have conceded one loss this season and both sides have conceded five sets, but Jastrzębski Węgiel had a better points difference, hence the advantage of playing the second leg of the doubleheader on their home court, which might prove crucial in this well-balanced clash.