Russian stars Kobzar, Poletaev steer Kuzbass to unexpected turnaround in Champions League


Captain and setter of Kuzbass and Sbornaya Igor Kobzar shines against ZAKSA

Kedzierzyn-Kozle, Poland, March 12, 2020 – Igor Kobzar and Victor Poletaev took leading roles in Russian champions Kuzbass Kemerovo’s unexpected quarterfinal comeback on the way to the last four in the men’s CEV Champions League.

In their rookie season in Europe’s top-tier club competition, Kuzbass reached the semifinals after losing the first leg of their quarterfinal encounter with Poland’s ZAKSA Kedzierzyn-Kozle in five sets, as well as the first set of the re-match in Poland, before winning the next three and celebrating their qualification. 

24-year-old Victor Poletaev, the opposite of Kuzbass and of the Russian national team, was the best scorer of both matches delivering 24 points in each. At home in Kemerovo last week, his two aces, one kill block and 21 spikes at a 58% success rate were not enough for victory and ZAKSA claimed a narrow 3-2 (22-25, 26-24, 17-25, 28-26, 16-14) win. In the away game, however, Poletaev’s numbers were similar – one ace, two blocks and 21 spikes at a 53% success rate – but as many as half of his 24 points were break points that made the difference on the way to a 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-20) win over a team that had not lost a single set in their six matches of the pool stage. The 197-cm-tall high-flying striker was named MVP of the match.

Setter Igor Kobzar also showed his scoring abilities, especially in the first match when he produced two aces, one block and three spikes towards a total of six points. However, his playmaking abilities really shone in the second match, when the captain of Sbornaya showed a lot of variety in the organization of the offence, often surprising the opponents with first-tempo attacks, and great cohesion with the spikers, whom he gave frequent opportunities to hit against single-man blocks.

“I am pleased that our game turned out as we expected,” the 28-year-old setter commented after the victory in Kedzierzyn-Kozle. “In terms of player selection, we are stronger. That’s why it is very good that we proved this with results.”

Kuzbass’s semifinal opponent will emerge from the quarterfinal series between Italy’s Sir Sicoma Monini Perugia and other Russian rookies Fakel Novy Urengoy. The Italians won the first match in Russia by 3-1, but the second game has been postponed to a date and venue yet to be determined. In the other Champions League semifinal, defending titleholders and club world champions Cucine Lube Civitanova will face the winner of the quarterfinal series between 2018 club world champions Trentino Itas of Italy and Polish powerhouse Jastrzebski Wegiel Jastrzebie Zdroj.

Poletaev and Kobzar were key members of the Russian team which won the second edition of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League in 2019.

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