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Egor Kliuka was the star man in Saturday’s epic victory against USA, and he top scored for the Russians again with 13 points, but it was Russia’s defensive display which shone bright – Ilyas Kurkaev won three blocks from just nine attempts.
Mojtaba Mirzajanpour contributed 12 points for Iran – the only one of their players to score more than eight – but it was a strangely subdued performance from the Asian giants.
The first set was nip and tuck throughout with the scores locked at 4-4, 8-8 and then 18-18. But the Iranians went into a 22-19 lead after a brilliant block by Mojtaba Mirzajanpour on Egor Feoktistov. Milad Ebadipour Ghara then handed Iran three set points at 24-21, but the Russians rallied superbly and reeled off five successive points to snatch the opening set 26-24 – Dimitry Kovalev with the decisive score.
Kovalev’s powerful and accurate serving was causing the Iranians all sorts of problems in Lodz with Russia moving into a 3-1 lead. The gap was swiftly out to 14-9 and Iran, who won gold at the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku last month, were unable to bridge the five-point deficit. Russia’s rigid defence was epitomised by Maxim Zhigalov, who produced a brilliant block to hand the three-time World League winners six set points. Russia only needed one as they took the set 25-18.
Iran, who won the Asian Games in 2014, began to impose themselves in the third set. A fortuitous ace from Ebadipour had Igor Kolakovic’s side 9-7 in front, but another spike from Zhigalov had Russia back on level terms at 11-11. Russia, who had won four of the previous seven meetings, pulled clear later in the third set. Egor Kliuka, who notched 22 points in Saturday’s five-set victory over USA, fired some impressive spikes before an ace from Ilyas Kurkaev put Russia 19-15 in front. Iranian heads dropped and Dima Volkov’s ace sealed the set 25-18 and a fourth-straight World League victory for the Russians.