Al Arabi Club squared the Emir Cup Volleyball Championship semi-final playoffs against El Jaish with a fighting four-set triumph and forced the decider on Thursday.
At their home court, the 20-time champions had lost the opening game in four sets and when the army team, fired by Gyorgy Grozer’s brilliant spiking, clinched the first set today, it appeared that they might march on to win the match and make it to their first final.
However, Ljubomir Travica-guided Al Arabi turned around the match. With professionals Juantorena Osmany and Mariusz Wlazly leading the onslaught, Al Arabi won it by 23-25 25-22 25-13 25-22, despite two close calls by the chair umpire in the fourth set.
In another semi-final playoffs series, Al Rayyan Club completed a 2-0 sweep of Police, who played the last two finals, and entered their 24th final. Just like the first game, they won in straight sets by 25-19 25-17 25-17.
Cristian Savani (18 points), Leon (18) and Mohamed Hachdadi (10) contributed to the victory chiefly, while Neto and Jose Miguel Ceceres were the leading scorers for Police with 10 points each.
Al Arabi, who have claimed 20 out of 26 finals, and El Jaish were involved in four sets of varying patterns. In the opening one, both went in hot pursuit of each other and neither could get ahead by more than two points after the initial stages. As many as 19 times, both tied the scores.
At 23-23, Juma Faraj could not receive the serve of Grozer and the army team posted the set point. Off the next serve, Wlazly was defended by El Jaish and Grozer blasted the ball from the right to put his team 1-0 up.
But in the second set onwards, Al Arabi moved better and smashing from both wings created too many defensive problems for El Jaish. The set opened up after 13-13 and at 16-14, Al Arabi suddenly pulled 19-14 clear with Thiago da Silva’s floating serves causing reception difficulties.
Later, Grozer’s serve went into the net to hand the set point (19-24) to Al Arabi, who conceded three points and allowed El Jaish to come closer. Nikola Vasic put his service into the net and Al Arabi got level.
Al Arabi looked more organised in the third set and opened a 9-3 gap. Though Grozer tried to keep El Jaish into the set with his power-packed blows, Al Arabi responded through Wlazly and Osmany, who were also helped by blockers Ibrahim Said, Faraz and da Silva.
Two successive blocks pushed Al Arabi to 23-12 up and then Ibrahim fired a smash to gain the set point. El Jaish saved one point through Djukic Boyan but Wlazly killed a ball to win the set and place Al Arabi’s driver’s seat.
There was a grim battle for the clear lead by both the teams in the fourth set. Al Arabi contrived to get 15-12 up but El Jaish caught up with them through Grozer. At 21-20, Mohamed Amer hit into the net and Osmany followed it up with two brilliant serves to set up the first match point for Al Arabi.
El Jaish managed to pull back two more points with a smash from Grozer and a block on Wlazly. However, the Polish national team player rifled one smash to seal the victory for Al Arabi.
For Al Arabi, Wlazly (24) and Osmany (21) won the bulk of points. Ibrahim contributed 8, while Faraj collected 9. Grozer had the match-high 35 but he got some support from his El Jaish teammate Leonel Marshall (10) only.
Coach Travica was delighted with his team’s comeback and commented,”It was really a difficult match today. Everybody played a very good volleyball and they all fought for each ball.
I expect almost the same stuff in the third match also. Both the teams will battle hard to reach the final.
“It is not possible to play without mistakes. Sometimes players make mistakes, sometimes coaches and sometimes referees. We had two bad decisions in the fourth set. We lost the points and this might have gone against us.
But I admire my players for coming back and focusing on the match immediately. Later we managed to reverse those bad calls and won the match. I’m really very happy for my team,” added Travica.
Faraz commented after the victory,”In the last set tonight, we had a couple of bad decisions. At this level in volleyball, you’ve to be ready for everything.
“We fought back and defeated El Jaish and now we will face them in the third match again.
“We will go into the decider just as we did today either you win or go on holiday. We’re not going to relax and fight hard to reach another final,” added Al Arabi captain Faraj.