The expectance for a long and interesting battle between last year’s vice-champions Generali Unterhaching and VfB Friedrichshafen was refuted on Wednesday evening in the southern Munich suburb when the visitors closed the series. The same did Berlin Recycling Volleys after a relatively facile home encounter.
We will have to look back to 1997 to find the last German champion (SV Bayer Wuppertal) which was neither Berlin, nor Friedrichshafen. Knocked out in the semifinals last year namely by the rising powerhouse from Berlin, Friedrichshafen found its way back to the final in the current campaign. Stelian Moculescu brought at the Bodensee 12 of the last 15 Bundesliga titles, so he surely has the experience on his side before facing the defending champions for the first time next Sunday.
I was a bit disappointed to find Generali Unterhaching out of shape in the most important part of the season. Perhaps the break after the regular season has played a dirty trick on the team’s concentration. The only more balanced game of the series was this Wednesday when Haching were pushed to the wall and feared an early knockout. The previous two matches were clearly dominated by VfB. The Oberbayern team seemed to struggle and was at times unable to show their game. The shocking 17-25 start, however, motivated the “reds” and they replied in the best possible way taking the next two parts with a minimal margin (25-23, 27-25). Then Friedrichshafen had a final say. A reliable Ventsislav Simeonov led Friedrichshafen to a tie-break and single-handedly converted the first match point with an ace (15-12).
Despite an interesting tie-break, that game plus the whole semifinal series between the two teams will be remembered with the huge number of mistakes on both sides. As much as I expected a more dramatic outcome (only game 3 was more classy), the third-ranked after the regular season VfB took advantage of the situation much to my surprise and needed only three endeavours to end the season for Haching. Now Moculescu will use some more free days to prepare his lads for next Sunday.
Apart from the scores, what caught my attention was the change of setter preferences for both Romanian-born specialists. The otherwise unstable Nikola Jovovic enjoyed a decent Wednesday evening this week without too many of his usual mistakes. Probably a change that was prompted by the cause of events during the trip to Italy in the pre-playoff phase. Juraj Zatko lost his starting position and it seems that Moculescu trusts his young Serbian playmaker more at the moment. An unfortunate head shot was the reason for Jovovic to leave the court in the middle of game 3, but he reappeared later on and stayed till the end to set his team to the 3-2 win. A similar change was overt on Paduretu‘s side. A rotation between the most skilled setter couple in the Bundesliga saw Skladany on the bench for Patrick Steuerwald. Haching did not lose creativity at all with this move, but there might be an option for the coach to use more Steuerwald should the Slovakian setter decide to leave Bayern in the summer (rumours link him to the French championship and Nantes).
Berlin and TV Ingersoll Buhl did not offer so much to talk about. Buhl grabbed only one set (at home on Saturday) in all three games and reached its peak for the 2012-2013 season on the semifinals level. On the other side, the real test for Mark Lebedew is just about to begin. Now his team will have to sweat much more against a back-to-life Friedrichshafen. Aleksandar Spirovski walked in the Max-Schmeling-Halle on crutches and won’t be available for the final. The versatile Roko Sikiric will have to provide an alternative to Paul Carroll instead. Robert Kromm will have another possibility to prove Vital Heynen wrong for not taking him to the full national team roster for 2013. The Recycling Volleys middles will have a hard task to find a solution to the pipes of Valentin Bratoev. The Bulgarian will be again targeted to receive, but he endured bravely against Haching, so there are a few puzzles for Lebedew to solve on the rockier road to defending his title.