Champions League Playoffs and German Cup

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Last week was the last knockout round of the Champions League before the Final Four.  Because the hosts are already qualified for the Final Four, they can’t call them  quarter finals and so have named this round ‘Playoffs 6’.  It’s not the catchiest of names but it does get to the point pretty fast.  The most important is that is the business end of the most important club competition in Europe, and all of it is live on  With some of the bonuses that I have heard about, it is not the least bit surprising that the first legs last week were all close and hard fought.  In the first match on Tuesday night Jastrzebski Wegiel, home of the Australians, beat Belgian power club Noliko Maaseik in five sets.  It was a real rollercoaster ride.  Neither team played at their best for very long stretches and at 1-2 and 6-10 in the fourth, things didn’t look great for Hardy and Yudin and co.  Even the coach looked a little out of solutions.  But Slovenian opposite Gasparini absolutely caught fire and turned the match on its head.  The surprise of the round was Dynamo Moscow winning in Cuneo.  Having thrashed European champions (and Final Four hosts) Trento in the Italian Cup final, Cuneo were favourites to make it to the Final Four.  But the Russians played a great match and never allowed Grbic, Nikolov and co never got into a rhythm.  Dynamo opposite Iakovlev brought back memories of his days as one of the best opposites in the world (see below) with 19 points at 67%.  But the match of the round was between Belchatow and Dynamo Kazan.  In front of 9000 spectators in Lodz the two heavyweights battled toe to toe for another five sets.  For Kazan, Mikhailov was unbelievable (25 points at 55%) and for Belchatow Wlazly was amazing (27 points, 5 aces).  In this case, unbelievable plus Lloy Ball beat amazing.  The second legs of all the matches are this week and with the golden set rule in force everything is still possible.  The teams who won the first leg away from home (Moscow and Kazan) have slight advantages, while the Jastrzebski – Maaseik match is evenly poised.  It should be a great week.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the German Cup final.  In Germany the cup final is the highlight of the volleyball calendar.  Both men and women play in the huge stadium in Halle which also host the famous tennis tournament and volleyball fans travel from all over Germany.  Sadly the women’s match failed to hold my attention, but the men’s match between Haching and Friedrichshafen was a real cracker.  Haching won the first two sets clearly.  Just when they looked down and out, Friedrichshafen fought back to win the next two just as clearly.  They carried the momentum into the fifth and led 8-5 at the change but after Haching evened the score it became virtually a one against one game between Paul Carroll for Haching and Oliver Venno for Friedrichshafen.  Carroll scored 8 points after a side change, Haching saved two match points and won it 20-18 when Venno was blocked.  Carroll won the MVP and Haching went home happy.  I, on the other hand, went home plotting how to beat both of them…


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