Third Time European Champion
Treviso, Italy, April 23, 2017. The best was surely yet to come, as we entered the Gold Medal match. The home team of Imoco Volley CONEGLIANO were in the final and up against the powerhouse of VakifBank ISTANBUL. The Palaverde in Treviso was packed to the rafters. The home team started the brightest, but the first set went the way of VakifBank 25-19. While the second set was fairly comfortable (25-13), the third set was a real thriller with it going right to the wire, before VakifBank eventually took it 25-23.
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After an entrance to remember, both teams took to the court determined to make their own history. VakifBank were looking for their 3rd Champions League title (after 2011, 2013), while the home team of Imoco Volley were after their maiden win. VakifBank had already guaranteed one thing, having never before failed to win a medal once qualified for a Final Four.
The score at the first technical was 8-6 to the Turkish team, who despite losing the first couple of points came back strong in the first third of the set. From here the away team kicked (16-13) on for what was in the end a fairly comfortable set victory.
Their only real scares came at 20-18 when some confusion over a Challenge call ended up with the point going to the home team. However from here the home team could only get one more point, while VakifBank accelerated to the set victory 25-19.
With Imoco struggling in the blocking department, thoughts could not help but turn to their injured middle blocker, Robin de Kruijf who is out with an ankle injury.
With the crowd a little quieter, VakifBank started the second slightly more confident and this told as they strode to an 8-3 lead.
From here the points went at around a rate of 2 for VakifBank and only 1 for Imoco as the Turkish team continued to dominate. It was 16-8 at the second technical time-out and before the home crowd of 4,831 spectators knew what had happened it was 2-0 with a final set score of 25-13.
So this was it, and it started with everyone in the room knowing it. VakifBank were one set from a triple Champions League crown, while the home team had nothing to lose and they went out with everything they had. After some great action, it was closer at the first technical than it had been for the whole match at 8-7.
The score stayed close, but with the Turkish team constantly having a slight edge. With the crowd really wanting more an Imoco error ended up granting VakifBank the title with a third set score of 25-23.
Nicole Fawcett, opposite of Imoco Volley CONEGLIANO: "VakifBank ISTANBUL really stepped up their game from yesterday. We played the team who seems to be making every perfect play and it was tough for us. They did a great job and I think in the third set we came back really well and fought hard but it wasn’t enough. It’s hard to say how we could have stopped them. They had an effect on how we play which was not by any means our best, but I think if we were to bring our best, it would not be a three sets match."
Raphaela Folie, middle blocker of Imoco Volley CONEGLIANO: "The semi-final was amazing and we didn’t expect to reach the final in such a way. Today we started a little bit slow and we only found our rhythm in the third set, but it was too late to do anything. Vakifbank ISTANBUL was the stronger team today, but I feel we could have done more. It was our first Champions League final, so we will try do better next year."
Kimberly Hill, outside hitter of VakifBank ISTANBUL: "It’s an incredible feeling! You don’t have any kind of expectations when you come in to this kind of match. You just go in and try to play good. It’s easy with this kind of teammates. Everyone is supporting one another and makes it really fun."
Giovanni Guidetti, head coach of VakifBank ISTANBUL: "I don’t think about this match. I just think about this team. This year we were really down so many times, we got a lot of punches on the way, but they never gave up. We lost in the Turkish League semi-final and we came here after 10 days of great work, so I am really proud of these players."