Paola Egonu celebrated her 23rd birthday on Saturday with a dazzling performance as she took the chestnuts out of the fire and led Prosecco Doc Imoco Volley Conegliano of Italy to a 3-1 (23-25, 26-24, 25-15, 25-19) win over Brazil champions Itambe Minas Tenis Clube of Belo Horizonte for a spot in Sunday's final of the 2021 FIVB Women's Club World Championship. There they'll meet VakifBank Istanbul who beat their crosstown rivals Fenerbahce Opet Istanbul 3-0 (25-19, 29-27, 25-23) in the second of Saturday's semifinals at Ankara Sports Hall.
Conegliano and VakifBank lock horns for highly anticipated world title
Incredible semifinals in Ankara set the suspense of Sunday's Club Worlds final
Published 05:32, 18 Dec 2021
It's back-to-back finals for defending champions Conegliano, after they won the trophy last time around in 2019.
For VakifBank it will be their fifth, after losing to Azerbaijan's Rabita Baku in 2011 and taking the title in 2013, 2017 and 2018 (all three against Brazilian opposition) as they set up a rematch of the incredible 2019 Club Worlds semifinal and the 2021 European Champions League final - both decided in five epic sets.
- Bronze medal match:
15:00 (12:00 GMT): Itambe Minas Tenis Clube Belo Horizonte (BRA) v Fenerbahce Opet Istanbul (TUR)
18:30 (15:30 GMT): Prosecco Doc Imoco Volley Conegliano (ITA) v VakifBank Istanbul (TUR).
The entry of Miriam Sylla off the bench to sub out USA's Kathryn Plummer and the decision by Paola Egonu to take matters into her own hands were critical in bringing Conegliano back from the brink, while in the middle Raphaela Folie (12/15 for 80% overall for the match in attack) and the Netherlands' Robin de Kruijf (six blocks, of which four in the decisive second set) were keeping the side still in contention.
Still, Conegliano blew a 23-21 lead in the second allowing Minas that set point that would have put the Brazilians two sets ahead - though eventually Egonu thundered home the last three points (including a direct ace) as the Italians breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.
Egonu ended up with a match high of 28 points (13 of those in the second set) and an attacking efficiency of 62% (24/39), as Conegliano gradually recovered from a poor receiving performance in the first set.
I'm happy that we won, but not so happy that we didn't play our best game," said Conegliano coach Daniele Santarelli after the match. "But it's important to play better tomorrow."
"Minas put a lot of pressure on us, but I'm happy about how we reacted to take control of the match," added captain Joanna Wolosz.
VakifBank needed only three sets to grab ther second ticket to the final - but it was hardly a simple affair in the Turkish derby.
VakifBank had to come from behind in both the second and third sets, cancelling two set points of Fenerbahce and blocking Russia's Arina Fedorovtseva twice to end the second.
Cansu Ozbay initiated a a seven-point run from 1-3 down in the third with back-to-back aces and remained on the service line until 8-3. And although Fenerbahce recovered to fight until the very end, Sweden's Isabelle Haak put away the last two sideouts that VakifBank needed to wrap it up in three.
Zehra Gunes did a great blocking job with six of her side's eleven stuffs and Brazil's Gabi Guimaraes was always around to keep VakifBank in contention when it mattered most, whether in the front or the back row.
Fenerbahce produced the top two scorers of the game with the Russian duo of Fedorovtseva grabbing the match high of 22 and Anna Lazereva adding another 20, but play was better distributed on the other side of the net, Haak bringing in 17, Gabi 14 and Zehra 11.
Today was a very difficult match," said VakifBank coach Giovanni Guidetti after the game. "We trailed in the second and we trailed in the third, and we did not play our best. But we never gave up."
Competition wraps up on Sunday with the two medals matches.
Itambe Minas Tenis Clube of Belo Horizonte take on Fenerbahce Opet Istanbul for bronze at 15:00 local time (12:00 GMT), followed by the grand final between Prosecco Doc Imoco Volley Conegliano and VakifBank Istanbul at 18:30 (15:30 GMT).