Ekateringburg, Russia, May 15, 2018 - Hosts Russia recovered from a slow start to see off Argentina in 4 sets 3-1 (20-25, 25-13, 25-13, 25-22) and get off to a positive start in the inaugural Volleyball Nations League as they joined the Netherlands at the top of Pool One.
The world's 5th-best side, Russia, were the favourites to win this hotly anticipated contest, but the 9th-ranked Argentineans hadn't read the script early on as they silenced the Ekaterinburg crowd with a terrific display in the opening set.
Russia had their inspirational captain Kseniia Ilchenko Parubets to thank as she weighed in with 14 spikes and 3 blocks in a virtuoso display, while she was ably supported by the menacing attacking duo of Natalia Malykh (13 spikes) and Irina Voronkova (11 spikes), as Argentina had no answer to the hosts' power.
Elina Rodriguez - who hit 10 spikes - was a focal point in the Argentina attack in the first set, while Anahi Tosi struck 16 despite some crucial misses. Clarisa Sagardia provided the perfect foil as a setter early on before fading badly - like the rest of her team-mates as they were outplayed in the middle of the contest.
Roared on by the home crowd and with a dominant 4-0 winning record against the South Americans, Russia were expected to come out of the traps firing on all cyclinders, but they looked short of cohesion and creativity against an impressive looking visiting side. Guillermo Orduna's side were quick and powerful early on and found themselves 8-6 in front at the first technical time out, with the Russians looking lethargic. Rodriguez was mopping up from the net and another spike put Argentina 4 points clear at 14-10. The lead was stretched to 8 at 22-14 and despite a mini Russian revival, Argentina held firm to see out the set 25-20.
But any Argentine hopes of a straight-sets win were well and truly quashed at the beginning of the second set with Russia starting quickly. Captain Kseniia Ilchenko Parubets, Irina Voronkova and Natalia Malykh were influential as the hosts rediscovered their mojo. Malykh was a constant threat from spike range and Voronkova's powerful serving and blocking ability proved a thorn in the Argentina attack. Malykh fired a couple of aces to put Russia 17-9 in front in the second before an outstanding Irina Fetisova block stretched the lead to 10 (21-11). The visitors looked a shadow of the side that were so dominant in the opening set and a Rodriguez missed spike put Russia two points away from levelling the match (23-12). The 2016 Olympic quarterfinalists saw out the set 25-13 to level the contest at 1 set all.
The momentum was with Vadim Pankov's girls and they continued to put Argentina under enormous pressure in the third set. Parubets' superb serving - she won 9 straight points from the first technical time out to beyond the second - provided the foundations, while Voronkova continued to marshall the defence as Argentina's communication began to break down. Parubets fired down a spike to make it 19-8 as she continued to dominate with the beleaguered Argentineans unable to muster any sort of response. The third set was inevitably closed out emphatically, 25-13.
Russia got slightly sloppy in the fourth and they were almost pegged back. Coach Pankov called a team time out with his team down 1-4 in the set, and Parubets came off the bench to solidify the defence. Rodriguez's wonderful spike edged Argentina 12-10 in front and gave them some hope of a famous comeback, but from then on it was all about Russia. Tatiana Romanova's exquisite work set up the irrepressible Voronkova who thumped home to give the hosts a 14-12 lead. And despite battling hard, Argentina were never able to close the gap as Russia came through to take the fourth set, 25-22, and wrap up an impressive comeback victory.
Russia are one of only 3 nations, as well as China and Cuba, to have won every world level major women's tournament, and on this evidence they look a good bet to challenge for their first major crown since winning the 2010 World Championship.