Zenit Kazan has been beaten by Lokomotiv Novosibirsk in the first semi-final of the 2013 Champions League Final Four after exciting five sets game. A reserve player of Lokomotiv, Ilya Zhylin, became a super hero of the duel. The wing-spiker scored 5 points only in tie-break being deadly effective in his play and deprived Zenit all dreams of repeating last year’s success.

 

Zenit Kazan 2 – 3 Lokomotiv Novosibirsk (25-19, 20-25, 25-22, 16-25, 12-15)

Zenit: Vermiglio 0, Anderson 11, Abrosimov 3, Mikhaylov 19, Sivozhelez 18, Lee 12, Babichev (L) and Berezhko, Cheremisin 2, Apalikov 1

Lokomotiv: Butko 3, Biryukov 8, Gatsalyuk 11, Nilsson 23, Divis 18, Volvich 9, Golubev (L) and Zhilin 11, Voronkov

 

The speaker fired up the fans of Lokomotiv already during the warm-up at the net and the countdown to the start of this much anticipated derby reached its climax. That Siberian “brotherhood” and solidarity the local officials had often spoken about in the past days did really turn into reality and one could easily get goose bumps already before the actions got started. So, there we go, after waiting for three months “Loko” could finally square off to vie for a spot in the final of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. The home heroes caught a promising start (4:1) with a couple of blocks to stop Evgeny Sivozhelez and Maxim Mikhailov as Zenit trembled a bit in reception. However, Mikhailov promptly powered back his side with an ace and a terrific crosscourt to draw level at 4. With Swede Marcus Nilsson gradually finding his way into the game, Lokomotiv got a narrow margin by the first technical time-out (8:6) but Zenit responded by levelling the score for a second time at 9. The Tatars steadily but confidently stepped up the quality of their performance moving to the front at 13:10; Lokomotiv head coach Andrey Voronkov stopped the game for a while and the fans profited of this opportunity to let the Siberian heroes feel all of their support and passion. It did not help much as Nilsson missed the next attack and only a few moments later Zenit called for the second mandatory stop (16:12). In order to stand a chance with Kazan, Lokomotiv did need to play their best but apparently could not succeed in doing this. Though they still hadn’t showed their full potential, the guys from Tatarstan were in full swing (19:15); Vermiglio showed off his class to make the best out of a bad reception and marshal Maxim Mikhailov to another successful spike (21:17), before a couple of blocks paved the way for an easy final rush for the Tatars and the provisional 1:0 was sealed at 25-19 as Nilsson served well off the court.  

Similarly to what had happened in the first set, Lokomotiv got off to a flying start (5:0), chiefly via some terrific blocks, and finally the crowd could get something to cheer about as their heroes looked more self-confident and were playing with good consistency (7:3). On the other side of the net Evgeny Sivozhelez – who had scored 8 points all alone in the first set, including three blocks – tried hard to compensate for this initial gap but Lokomotiv was not ready to slow their pace down (11:6). The “Siberian express” was playing much more intelligently, and with a lot more variations in offense, but after an ace by Mikhailov, their margin dropped down to two points (13:11). Left-handed Marcus Nilsson responded well by pocketing the next rally and “Loko” was eventually up by four as the second technical time-out was called. Though they had started the game as the underdogs – having already lost three times this season to Zenit – Lokomotiv had nevertheless high hopes for this match and their setter Alexander Butko excellently mastered all of his attackers (19:15). However, this did not mean that the fate of the set was already determined; Zenit tried to fight their way back (19:17) but in this attempt the Tatars needed to take some risks and this resulted into a few errors (22:18). Nilsson was on a class of his own and as the set looked almost gone, Zenit mentor Vladimir Alekno asked for a time-out for a very last attempt to change the course of the game. It did not take that long for Nilsson to call for a series of set balls (24:19) with the second opportunity for the 1:1 eventually cashed by middle blocker Artem Volvich (25-20), the tallest player on court standing at 213 cm.  

Zenit showed their determination to bounce back right from the early phases of the third set (5:1) helped by good serving contributed by Alexander Abrosimov. The Tatars were vying for their fourth appearance in a Champions League final – as well as for their third title in the competition – and they were evidently highly motivated to achieve this goal on “home” soil. The hosts of Lokomotiv played with glowing hearts but were unable to reduce the gap (12:7) until the audience was driven crazy as, after a series of incredible actions in defence, Lukas Divis scored for the 13:10 that resulted into a time-out asked by Alekno. Zenit got back on track by cashing the next three rallies (16:10) but the “Siberian train” was definitely not yet derailed as a block by Ilya Zhilin on Mikhailov reduced once more the gap to only two points (19:17). Zenit fired back to move up 22:18 heading down the final stretch, Nilsson aced for the 22:20 to briefly re-open the door, but after missing out on two set balls and going for a time-out, the guys around superstar Maxim Mikhailov claimed a deserved 2:1 lead in sets via their American spiker Matthew Anderson (25-22).  

After a close start (2:2), Lokomotiv accelerated their pace to set the tempo of the game (5:2) in set 4 and lead the way there at the first technical time-out (8:6). Kazan was struggling to find a way to draw the score and especially Sivozhelez lacked the impressive consistency he had showed to anchor Zenit in set 1 and 3. His mistakes helped Lokomotiv stay in contention for the tie-break (13:9) and by this moment Nikolay Apalikov – another Olympic champion from London 2012 – though still struggling with a minor injury joined the game for the Tatars. Lokomotiv continued their show (19:12) with team captain Alexander Butko showing great skills also from the serving line. Zenit head coach Alekno changed his setter and opposite with Igor Kolodinsky and Alexey Cheremisin replacing Vermiglio and Mikhailov but the set was basically gone (20:13). Some more mistakes by the Tatars – at this moment playing with their second lines – paved the way with gold for “Loko” with the eventual 2:2 being sealed by Nilsson with an ace (25-16).       

Alekno returned to his initial starting six for the tie-break – including first libero Obmochaev – with the only exception being Apalikov for Lee to possibly stop the march of their Siberian opponents. The deciding set started with two mistakes from the serving line before Nilsson profited of a bad reception by the Tatars to score his first point of the fifth set. All players looked quite nervous and tense as much was at stake and the initial phases contributed a series of unforced errors. By exploiting the lack of composure showed by their opponents, Zenit went up 5:3 but Divis took his side by the hand to make it 6 all. The quality of the game was improving rally after rally and Lokomotiv cruised to the front (8:7) as teams switched sides on an error by Anderson. Nikolay Apalikov promptly levelled the score but Sivozhelez and Mikhailov were blocked twice in a row to see Lokomotiv move up 10:8. Alekno called for a time-out in an attempt to break his opponent’s momentum, but Zhilin brought the next rally home for the provisional 11:8. Only four points did separate Lokomotiv from the final and the countdown got started as Zenit seemed unable to fight their way back. Mikhailov served into the net (13:10) before Zhilin cashed three opportunities to claim a spot for the Champions League final (14:11). Alekno used his second time-out, Anderson could take the next point but Ilya Zhilin made the Siberian dream come true (15-12) for the first major sensation of the weekend. 

Not only did Zenit Kazan lost a chance to win the Champions League second time in a row, but the Russian team also will not appear at the Club World Championships.