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Serbian fiesta in Vienna as Russia misses on another major final

serbien-topVienna, Austria, September 17, 2011. Serbia will be challenging Italy tomorrow as the continental crown will be at stake in Vienna after the young players around captain Ivan Miljkovic got the upper hand this afternoon at the end of a splendid and really hard-fought match with pre-favorite Russia (3:2; 25-23, 17-25, 22-25, 33-31, 15-13). This will be a unique chance to break a long fast as the very last gold medal dates back to 2001 when the Yugoslavia – whose heir may be well considered the Serbian national team – edged Italy (what a coincidence!) in Ostrava. The second semifinal lived up to the extremely high expectations of all fans with a massive crowd – mostly Serbian-oriented – packing the stands of the “Wiener Stadthalle” for a game whose fate was decided by the fighting spirit of Miljkovic & Co. who diverted a couple of Russian match balls in a breathtaking fourth set.

 

Serbia and Russia were allegedly supposed to deliver a great show this afternoon for the many fans that had got together for the second semifinal of the EuroVolley 2011.

Russia – winner of the 2011 FIVB World League – definitely wanted to get its revenge after losing to Serbia at last year’s World Championship in Italy and with the terrific performances registered in the previous rounds of the EuroVolley in the Czech Republic, the tall guys mentored by Vladimir Alekno had all odds on their side. However, Serbia had also advanced to the semis with an almost immaculate record, as Miljkovic & Co. had conceded only two sets to their opponents from the prelims through the 1/4 finals.

After missing the goal of a top rank in quite many recent competitions, Russia got totally re-shaped by coach Alekno and initially looked like a wall also for the – still quite young – Serbian team captained by Ivan Miljkovic. Maxim Mikhaylov – who has been working with coach Alekno also in Kazan – propelled the Russian offense with his marvelous spikes and Russia’s leadership was not to be questioned for most of the opening set. Serbia – supported by many compatriots who have settled in Vienna in the past few years – fought bravely cutting the gap to -1 (15:16) before a block of Marko Podrascanin contributed the first tie at 18. The audience got totally crazy as Serbia turned the score around, mainly with the help of Podrascanin and Miljkovic, who aced for the 21:19; however, the final fate of the first set was far from being determined, as Russia clawed back to 21 all to set up all conditions for a thrilling final rush. Serbia piled up two set balls after a misunderstanding on the Russian side of the court with Milos Nikic silvering the second opportunity for the final 25-23.

Russia did not waste too much time to storm back with a splendid opening in set 2 (8:3, 11:6) but Serbia stayed tuned, showing all of the fighting spirit that the Serbians are known for. Still Russia enjoyed a comfortable margin by the second technical time-out (16:10) and with their always impressive blocks the guys in red jerseys extended their dominance up to the end (25-17) with giant Dmitriy Muserskiy (217 cm) standing out in this fundamental.

Two of the most decorated Volleyball schools in Europe continued their battle also in set 3 with Taras Khtey spiking from the wing to call for the first technical time-out (8:6). The Russian captain shot some real rockets from the serving line to widen the gap (10:6) but again Serbia was not keen to let it go and was able to get back on track trailing down only by 1 point before Nikola Kovacevic concluded the most spectacular rally of the set and Miljkovic pocketed the 11 all. The Russian machine changed gear once again right after the second technical time-out with Mikhaylov – one of the players featured in the “FIVB Heroes” promotional campaign – showing off his amazing cross-courts which are a great combination of power and technique. With 3 or 4 points to rely on, the Russian express marched convincingly towards a provisional 2:1 lead that eventually turned into reality after Alexander Volkov scored from the middle to clip four set balls and Khtey sealed the 25-22.

Serbia opened the operations in set 4 with the attitude that is expected from someone that has to fight hard for every single rally to stretch the game to the tie-break and continue its campaign for European glory, a result that would round out an already memorable season for all national teams – senior, junior and youth – representing the Balkan country internationally. After Serbia had set the pace 10:7, Russia leveled the count after a fault was whistled to Serbian setter Petkovic and a very much contested ball attacked by Miljkovic was considered out by first referee Bela Hobor.  A serious of ties followed up to 20 all before Serbia’s head coach Igor Kolakovic was forced into a time-out as Russia was dangerously dictating the pace at 22:20. After resuming the game, a net violation was initially whistled to Serbia but the rally was repeated after consulting the second referee; Miljkovic did not miss his chance to go for the -1 and a few seconds later he even doubled for the 22 all. As incredible as it may be, Miljkovic forced a block-out for the 24:23 but the set ball was diverted by a cross-court of Khtey. Denis Biryukov contributed a first match ball for the heirs of the Soviet school but Miljkovic did not agree with this scenario (25:25). A block of Dragan Stankovic called for the 26:25 but Nikic served into the net for the desperation of the Serbian fans. What a thriller, a plot a screenwriter could have only penciled, with Serbia eventually going for the decider with a crazy 33:31!

Still profiting of the stamina and energy resulting from this final rush Serbia opened in great fashion (4:1), Alekno changed setter with Grankin replacing Butko but the Serbian express was no more to slow down, with magnificent actions in defense accompanying the efforts in attack of Miljkovic and Kovacevic (10:6). Maxim Mikhaylov tried to re-light the Russian hopes but once again his side missed on a major final after already finishing only fourth two years ago in Turkey, with Serbia sealing the final 3:2 (15-13).

Ivan Miljkovic won the battle between of the diagonal players by totaling 28 points while Mikhaylov squeezed in with 25.