Reigning champion Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul came through with clutch plays down the stretch to escape a hard-fighting Rexona-Sesc Rio squad, 25-27, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18, 15-11, in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship presented by PLDT on Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Rio Olympics silver medalist Tijana Boskovic of Serbia had her shining moments, but it was a total team effort for the Turkish powerhouse, which formalized its entry in the semifinals of this world-class tourney organized by the Philippine Superliga and Eventcourt with TV5, Petron, Nature Spring, Asics, BMW and F2 Logistics as sponsors, Diamond Hotel as official residence and Turkish Airlines as official airlines.
Earlier, Hisamitsu Springs Kobe hammered a 25-14, 25-18, 25-20 victory over Bangkok Glass in Pool B of this prestigious tourney, which also has Philippine Sports Commission, Rexona, Mall of Asia Arena, Foton and Price Waterhouse Cooper with Mikasa, Jinling and Gerflor as technical sponsors.
The victory was the first win of the Japanese club in three games, giving it a slight chance of making it to the next round pending the result of the battle between unbeaten teams Volero Zurich and VakifBank Istanbul, who are playing as of at press time.
Skipper Yumi Nagaoka had 18 kills to finish with 20 points while Yuki Ishii delivered 13 markers, including the match-clinching attack for the Japanese, whose disciplined defense paved the way for a stunning victory over Eczacibasi last year in Zurich.
Spotlight, however, was fixed on the star-studded battle between Eczacibasi and Rexona-Sesc Rio, which engaged in another thrilling five-set battle after losing to Pomi Casalmaggiore in a nail-biting fashion late Wednesday.
Arguably the world’s best attacker, Boskovic was the star of the show, registering 20 kills, seven blocks and an ace to finish with match-high 28 points while Russian Tatiana Kosheleva and American Jordan Larson-Burbach chipped in 15 markers apiece for Eczacibasi, which fought back from a huge deficit in the fourth set to force a decider.
With Boskovic and Kosheleva at the attack zone, Eczacibasi gained a 13-10 lead in the fifth set as the huge weekday crowd braced for another dramatic finish.
An attack error by Gabi Guimaraes gave Eczacibasi a four-point lead, 14-10, before Carol connected on a beautiful crosscourt to keep the Brazilians’ flickering hopes alive, 11-14. Boskovic, however, unleashed an off-speed attack from the right to seal the victory and formally send the reigning champions to the next round.
“Today is the last day (of the eliminations) and I’m happy with the result,” said Eczacibasi coach Massimo Barbolini, noting that their relentless defense helped them gain the crucial victory.
“Rexona used defense a lot. We knew it was a really complicated match. But I’m happy because at the beginning we were in disorder, but in the end, we gave unbelievable balls.”
Kosheleva credited their victory to teamwork and unity despite serving as a collection of the world’s best volleyball stars.
“We won because we played together,” said Kosheleva, a mainstay in the Russian national team. “As we play together, I think step by step, everyday we’ll get better and better. Rexona had good blockers and good defense. But we played more as a team.”
Monique had 22 kills, a block and an ace to finish with 24 points while Gabi contributed 14 markers for the Brazilians, who fell way short of their target after winning the bronze medal in this prestigious tournament last year.