Russia, in its guise as the old Soviet Union, dominated European volleyball for years before the likes of Italy, Spain, Poland and Serbia came to the party but they finally regained their title in 2013.
France took the crown two years ago but Russia is now back on top of the European game after beating Germany 3-2 in a pulsating European Championship final on September 3 in Poland.
Sergey Shlyapnikov’s men triumphed 15-13 in the final set after the Germans had twice fought back to level affairs at 2-2.
It was Russia’s 14th title while Serbia overcame Belgium also by a 3-2 scoreline to finish third in an equally entertaining third-place play-off.
Maxim Mikhaylov was named Most Valuable Player and the 29-year-old appears to be going from strength to strength.
His CV is mightily impressive, with Olympic gold at London in 2012 while he took bronze with Russia four years earlier and has won numerous medals domestically, with Zenit-Kazan having secured this year’s Russia Super League and Russian Cup.
While his and his nation’s success was not unexpected, Germany was the surprise package, having never before made the final of the biennial event.
Marcus Bohme was named as one of two Best Middle Blockers alongside Serbia’s Srecko Lisinac, while Gyorgy Grozer took the Best Opposite Spiker accolade and Denys Kaliberda joined Russia’s Dmitry Volkov in scooping the Best Outside Spikers award.
The sum of the parts may be great for the Germans but they have individual excellence as well, and will now look to keep up that momentum into the 2019 renewal to be co-hosted by France, Belgium, Netherlands and Slovenia.
While both the final and third-place showdown were thankfully close affairs, many of the knockout matches were one-sided.
Of the four losing quarter-finalists, only the Czech Republic took a set, with Slovenia, Bulgaria and Italy blown away and there is clearly a class gap between the top sides and the lesser lights.
In truth, there were few shocks throughout the competition as the four semi-finalists topped their respective groups with a 100 per cent record, and it was obvious that it would take something extraordinary from the lower-ranked teams to upset the odds.
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After their gold-medal winning performance, Russia are now joint-top of the rankings alongside France, and Shlyapnikov will feel it is justified after his charges put in the hard work to get them back to the summit.
Italy’s quarter-final loss to Belgium saw Gianlorenzo Blengini’s side slip down a place in the rankings to five, with Poland moving one spot in the opposite direction to fourth.
France and Serbia remain at two and three respectively and it would surprise nobody to see the same sides battling it out for European honours in 2019.
So what did we learn from this year’s European Championship?
Russia are very much back and have every intention of staying there while Germany may be the side they have to contend with in the future.
The final was won by the smallest of margins and it could easily have been the Germans smiling in Krakow – maybe they will be in two years’ time.