Greek volleyball’s near miss

Despite fielding two teams – for the first time in Greece’s sporting history – at last weekend’s Volleyball Champions League Final Four in Opole, Poland, the country failed to gain what would have been its first title in the competition. The two Greek representatives, Olympiakos and Iraklis, finished second and third, respectively. Olympiakos made it to Sunday’s final after defeating the Final Four’s local entry, Mostostal, 3-1, in a semi-final encounter a day earlier, but was deprived of its first ever European champion trophy by the formidable Italian club Macerata. The Piraeus club lost 3-1 in the final. Olympiakos had last made it all the way to the competition’s final 10 years ago. Iraklis, which missed making the competition’s final after succumbing in a tensely fought five-set encounter against the eventual Italian champion in their semi-final game, snatched Sunday’s match for third place against Mostostal, 3-2, for consolation. It was the Thessaloniki team’s first Final Four appearance. On the day of the semi-finals, stunned Polish fans, roughly 3,500 of them, got a taste of the absurd rivalry that divides fans of Greek clubs, even at international level. Throughout Olympiakos’s semi-final clash, the Piraeus team’s players put up with jeers from the few Iraklis fans in attendance. The Thessaloniki club’s supporters singled out Olympiakos player Marios Giourdas, whose retaliation came close to provoking a serious feud between him and the fans of the rival team. In contrast, despite their team’s two losses, Polish fans displayed exemplary behavior on both days. «From the beginning, we didn’t believe we could win the title. We began believing in ourselves after the second set, but we’d already lost valuable ground,» remarked Olympiakos’s coach, Daniele Ricci, who had led the Italian club Ravena to victory against Olympiakos in its previous European final a decade earlier. Olympiakos player Vassilis Kournetas attributed his team’s loss to bad serving. «We didn’t serve well at all. But the overall outcome is positive for my team. Olympiakos, of course, always aims for top spot and we wanted to win this title,» said Kournetas, whose team must now focus its efforts on the domestic league’s playoffs. In the Iraklis camp, the overall feelings were bittersweet, as the team’s coach, Alekos Leonis, summed up. «We ended our European campaign on a positive note. I believe that our course was positive. But we do feel bitter about not grabbing a higher place which we lost because of injuries,» Leonis said. «Of our three objectives for the season, we’ve attained two – the Greek Cup and the Final Four. Now, the [domestic] league lies ahead,» he added. Returning to Olympiakos’s coach, Ricci stated that he would be interested in remaining in his post next season, if a better offer is not made by a strong Italian club. He also expressed full confidence in another domestic title for Olympiakos this year. «I’ll decide in May, after we’ve won the title,» Ricci remarked. «If I don’t find an Italian club with which I could win a Champions League title, I don’t see any reason why I should not stay on at Olympiakos.»

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