Kliuka stars in Russia's tiebreak win over USA


Egor Kliuka (no. 19) scored 22 points Saturday

Lodz, Poland, June 17, 2017 – Taylor Sander scored an amazing total of 28 points but couldn't prevent the United States of America from losing to Russia in a pulsating 3-2 thriller (31-29, 17-25, 25-17, 27-29, 15-12) in Saturday's action of the 2017 World League.

The winger spiker delivered another scintillating performance and lead the US close to an impressive come from behind victory. But the Americans made too many mistakes (39) to have any hopes of troubling the Russians, who dominated the blocks (17 to the US' 14).
On the other side of the net, Egor Kliuka (22 points) and Maxim Zhigalov (17 points) were in dominating form.

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With a 3-4 record, both teams headed into the game knowing a win would lift them one step closer to Curitiba for the Final Six. It was their second clash in this year's edition of the World League after the Americans' straight-set win last week in France. This rematch of the Rio 2016 Olympics bronze medal match, which USA came back from two sets down to win 3-2, meant one of them would take the lead in the head-to-head record (15-15).

But Russia had to deal with the absence of middle blocker Ilia Vlasov, who suffered injury in the last game. Meanwhile the US can rely on highflying Taylor Sander and Benjamin Patch, who managed an impressive total of 2013 between the both of them while David Smith (0.63 avg per set) is one of the tournament's best blockers.

Sander and Patch weren't on target however as the Russian wall prevailed in the beginning of the match as the Europeans took a head start (4-0). Slowly but consistently, team USA made its way back into the match as Patch then DeFalco spiked to narrow the game to 12-11. But Russia remained in the driver's seat as Kurkaev spiked and the Russian block denied DeFalco (19-14). Dmitry Volkov finished strong and Russia took a 1-0 lead after an amazing comeback from the US who saved seven set points but had to admit defeat in the end (31-29).

A highoctane start saw the American take the lead (4-0) in the second set. After a Russian rally that saw the Europeans claw back to just one point, Patch once again rose above the wall to send his teammates on top as coach Shlyapnikov asked for a time out (10-5). The Americans cruised to victory, leading 16-10 before a second time out as Likhosherstov sent his spike out. An ace from Kawika Shoji and a deft touch by Jeffrey Jendryk and the US level to 1-1 (25-17).

Despite couple defensive misunderstandings in the Russian back court, the away side was in the driver seat from the get go (8-7). The Europeans kept the tempo and quickly increased their lead as Kliuka's spike lobbed through the US defence and Volkov spiked (18-14). A strong ending of the set as the Russian block dominated again saw Russia take a 2-1 lead (25-19).

Both sides started the fourth set cautiously with the scores locked at 8-8. But the Europeans established a slight lead (15-13) as the Russian block was once again impressive. But with players like youngster Benjamin Patch, you can never be too cautious and the US quickly turned things around (21-19) until a nice rally that saw Russia score five unanswered points to leapfrog the Americans (25-24). But Zhigalov's attempt got blocked and the US sent the game to the tie break (29-27).

The fifth and decisive set was once again tightly-contested with both teams exchanging blows but it was the Americans who got their noses in front early on (5-3). Russia rapidly clawed back into the game after a Kliuka spike (9-9). A superb performance by Volkov saw Russia come out on top in the end (15-12).

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