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Imoco payers celebrate during their match with Praia

Three of the four Club World Champs 2022 semifinalists were revealed in Antalya on Thursday. As Italy’s Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano started their campaign with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-21) victory over Brazil’s Dentil Praia Clube, it was clear that they would advance to the semis from Pool A, along with hosts Eczacibasi Dynavit Istanbul, who also defeated the team from Uberlandia on Wednesday. Defending champions VakifBank Spor Kulubu of Istanbul secured the top of the Pool B standings after mastering their second win in Antalya, a hard-fought 3-0 (25-22, 26-24, 25-21) shutout of the other Brazilian side, Gerdau Minas of Belo Horizonte.

In the last pool matches on Friday, Eczacibasi will take on Imoco at 16:00 local time (13:00 UTC) for the first place in Pool A. Three hours later, Minas will lock horns with Kuanysh Club of Petropavl, Kazakshtan in a direct battle for the last vacancy among the best four of the tournament.

Swedish opposite Isabelle Haak was merciless in Imoco’s match again Dentil Praia and contributed as many as 24 points towards the straight-set victory. Her tally included two aces and a block. Only two other players, both from the Brazilian team, reached double digits. Opposite Tainara Santos produced 14 points, including three blocks, while Dominican outside hitter Brayelin Martinez delivered 10 kills in attack.

Martinez swung for the first point of the match, but it was the last time in the first set the Brazilians had the lead. Imoco quickly took control and after a three-point series broke away with a 7-3 advantage. With Haak spearheading the offence, the Italian team kept pace towards a 25-22 close, with the Swedish opposite herself spiking the set winner.

The second set started with a Martinez kill again before Imoco took the initiative. However, this time Praia recovered from a three-point lag to catch up at 9-9, and then the two teams traded points until the money time, when the Europeans scored four in a row on American outside Kelsey Robinson’s serving turn to reach set point. A rally later, Canadian outside Alexa Gray hammered the 25-21 winner.

The South Americans scored the first point of the third set too, this time with an ace by outside Kasiely Clemente. And again, they could not hold on to their lead for long. Gray aced to put Imoco in front with a 3-2 lead and Praia never managed to regain control. Haak was again on fire as she made sure Imoco got the job done in three sets. Polish setter and captain Joanna Wolosz brought in match point with a short-serve ace for 24-20 and soon Haak put the ball on the floor for the final 25-21.

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Ecstatic Gabi

Italian star opposite Paola Egonu was once again the best scorer in the second match of the day as she contributed 22 points to VakifBank’s success against Minas, including three blocks and an ace. Brazilian outside hitter and captain Gabriela Guimaraes added another 11 for the Istanbul team, while outside Priscila Daroit was Minas’ top scorer on 14 points. VakifBank’s blocking made the biggest difference in the match, with 12 stuffs against just three for the opponents.

Opposite Kisy Nascimento opened the game with an ace for Minas. The first half of the first set was really tight, but as soon as Minas managed to gain a two-point lead, VakifBank made sure it was their last in the set. With three points in a row by Egonu, followed by an ace from middle blocker Zehra Gunes, the Yellow-and-Blacks took a 15-13 lead. Egonu owned the net with her spikes and her blocks (11 points in that set alone) to lead her team to a 25-22 win, shaped up with a monster block by Gabi for the last point.

A mighty battle unfolded during the second set, the first of the tournament to go into overtime. While Pri Daroit was playing especially well on Minas’ side, VakifBank had Gabi to lead the team through difficult moments. After rollercoaster swings, it came down to 24-24 and then Egonu took charge to hammer two points in a row for the set win.

In set three, VakifBank had to recover from an early five-point deficit. Things looked serious for the Turkish team after the two back-to-back aces from middle Julia Kudiess for 15-10 Minas’ way, and then again when a shoulder injury forced setter Cansu Ozbay out of the game at 16-14. But the battle was on and with a great team effort, Giovanni Guidetti’s squad finally caught up at 19-19. Dutch outside Nika Daalderop’s monster block brought in match point, immediately converted to a 25-21 win on an attacking error by the Brazilians.