November 28, 2006, Sendai, Japan: Poland pulled off an astonishing comeback from 2-0 down to beat the mighty Russians in five sets Tuesday and advance to the semifinals of the world championships.
The third-ranked Russians fell apart after a devastating display in the first two sets and Poland showed unbelievable tenacity to win an incredible Pool E match 19-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-11 in front of an electric crowd at Sendai City Gymnasium.
Poland stayed unbeaten and Russia dropped to 4-2 and lost any chance of advancing to the semifinals. Serbia Montenegro also is now through to the last four.
The Russians raced into a three-point lead in the opening set and Poland coach Raul Lozano responded by calling an early time out. Poland quickly got off the mark, but Russia went into the first TTO 8-4 ahead after a block from the 217-cm Alexey Kazakov.
A huge spike from Mariusz Wlazly pulled Poland to two behind at 10-8, but some brilliant blocking from Russia took them to 13-9 and Lozano called another TO.
Russia went into the second TTO 16-11 ahead courtesy of a towering block from captain Semen Poltavsky on a spike from Michal Bakiewicz.
Kazakov rattled in an unstoppable steep spike to move the score to 17-12 as Russia began to run away with the first set. An ace service from Poltavsky brought Russia up to 21-16, but he undid all his good work when his next serve was hit into the net.
But a brilliant diagonal spike from Alexander Kosarev gave Russia a 22-17 lead and the first set was in sight. Lukasz Kadziewicz's serve was ruled long which brought set point for Russia and Serguei Grankine closed out the set when his dynamite serve proved too hot to handle for the Poles.
Poland didn't get caught napping at the start of the second set as they did in the first as spikes from Kadziewicz and Wlazly kept tabs on the Russians.
Russia went into the first TTO, though, 8-6 ahead after Poltavsky -- continually causing damage on the right -- hit a blistering diagonal spike.
Pavel Abramov added another point after some brilliant reactions from Alexey Verbov and Poltavsky weighed in again with an unstoppably smash on the right.
Lozano had seen enough and called a TO, with players like Kadziewicz visibly angry that the Russians were beginning to run away with the set again.
After the TO, Kuleshov's imperious block on Kadziewicz, followed by some posturing afterward, wound up the player even more. He looked his confidence had taken a bit of a knock and needed geeing up by his teammates.
Kazakov was proving to be a brick wall the Poles couldn't get past and his block moved the Russians to 15-10 ahead before the second TTO arrived with the same gap when Poltavsky's spike bounced off the block from Winiarski.
Abramov popped up on the left to move the score to 20-15 and that was Lozano's cue to call a TO. But things didn't improve for the Poles. A clever Grankine serve landed in the middle of the opposition court to move the score to 22-15.
Poland briefly rallied, bringing the score to 22-18, which triggered a TO from Russia coach Zoran Gajic, but a Kazakov block after the break moved Russia to 23 and then a Kosarev spike gave them set point.
Abramov steamed down the middle to dispatch a punishing spike and that claimed the second set, 25-19, for Russia.
Stunning blocking from the enormous Kazakov helped Russia go into the first TTO of the third set with an 8-7 lead, but Poland battled back and took the lead 12-11, forcing Gajic to call a time out.
But Daniel Plinski gave the Poles a two-point advantage at 13-11, before Russia came back and Poltavsky's hammered spike put them 14-13 in front.
The lead was changing back and forth as Poland battled furiously to get back into the game, and they went into the second technical break two ahead after a tight decision on a block went their way.
Poland continued to keep their noses in front and a dinked ball from Kadziewicz put the score at 20-18.
Substitute Alexander Volkov smashed in a spike down the middle with his first touch, though, as the Russians kept up the pressure. Volkov, 210 cm, was then joined on the court by another sub, the 215-cm Stanislav Dineykin, as Russia increased the height of their blockers.
Poland crept to 23-21 before Kazakov smashed in a spike, but then Grzegorz Szymanski earned set point for Poland with a crashing spike down the middle and Kadziewicz gave them the set with another spike the Russians couldn”Ēt return.
From what looked like an impossible situation before, the Poles now saw an opening. They moved to a 6-3 lead in the fourth set, with Gajic calling a TO for the Russians after a brilliant block by Winiarski on Abramov.
Abramov's pride was stung and a couple of points from the fierce-eyed Russian saw him celebrating with a previously unseen intensity.
Russia recovered to lead 8-7 at the first TTO, but a huge block on Poltavsky from Kadziewicz put the Poles 10-9 ahead and they increased that lead to 13-9.
The Russians were looking groggy and Poland went into the second TTO 16-12 ahead after a stunning spike from Winiarski on the left.
Gajic called a TO with Poland leading 18-13, and the break worked as Russia came back to within two points of the Poles.
But the Polish were made of sterner stuff. Russian captain Poltavsky was shell-shocked after being blocked time and time again, with Gajic having to haul off the captain for a break. Russia were now in disarray.
A net violation from Russia brought up set point at 24-18 and captain Piotr Gruszka crashed in a spike into the middle of the Russian court to set-up the previously unthinkable -- a tie-break set.
Poland drew first blood when Kadziewicz blocked imperiously and it was his serve that hit Russia captain Poltavsky -- now a shadow of himself -- on the back to put his team 5-3 ahead.
Russia had well and truly fallen apart. Poland improved to 13-9 and match point arrived when Grankine served into the net before Szymanski's spike clipped a Russian blocker for an incredible victory.