The race to Kobe begins in earnest


Tijana Boskovic of Serbia and Thaisa Menezes of Brazil happy at the net as Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul knock out Minchanka Minsk for a berth in the European Champions League pools.

Lausanne, Switzerland, November 19, 2016 - With reigning women's world champions safely through after solid back-to-back home and away wins and with no major suprises in the qualifying stages, the European race for the ultimate continental club prize and a direct ticket to the 2017 FIVB Club World Championship is all set ahead of the start of the pools phase of the Champions League.

Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul, the gold medallists of the 2016 FIVB Club World Championship in Manila, capped their four-set away win from earlier in the week with a 3-0 (25-14, 28-26, 25-19) sweep of Belarus' Minchank Minsk before 1,200 fans at the Burhan Felek Saturday evening.

Serbia's Tijana Boskovic, the MVP in Manila last month, pounded the Belarussians with 5 aces and led the scoring with a total of 17 points. Russia's Tatiana Kosheleva also scored in double digits with 10.

That sees Eczacibasi securely through to the pools phase, where huge matchups against their Istanbul crosstown rivals VakifBank, the world bronze medallists in Manila, are highly anticipated. Rounding up Pool D are Germany's Dresdner SC and Russia's Uralochka-NTMK Ekaterinburg. With just the top teams of each pool plus the best three of the second-ranked teams qualifying to the knockout stage the competition is expected as intense as can be.

Meanwhile, Kosheleva's previous club Dinamo Krasnodar also made it through to the pools stage after overturning a five-set away defeat to Serbian champions Vizura Belgrade with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-23) sweep at home. Twenty-two-year-old Olesya Nikolayeva, who moved from Dinamo Kazan to Krasnodar this season, was top scorer with 13 points, on par with Viktoriya Chaplina who brought in five of her team's 17 blocks Saturday.

Dinamo Krasnodar, silver medallists at the 2015 FIVB Club World Championship in Zurich, are placed in Pool B with reigning Russian champions Dinamo Moscow, Switzerland's Volero Zurich and Romania's CS Volei Alba Blaj.

Liu Jo Modena became the second Italian team in the Champions League pools after fending off the advances of France's RC Cannes. On the back of their straight-set win midweek at home, Modena got it all wrapped up in France when they came back from 21-24 down in the second set and survived another set point at 26-27 to claim the set 28-26.

Modena went on to win 3-1 (26-24, 28-26, 23-25, 25-9), led by Turkey's Neriman Ozsoy who scored 21 points. They join reigning Italian champions Imoco Volley Conegliano plus Poland's Chemik Police and Azerbaijan's Telekom Baku in Pool A of the Champions League.

Rounding it all up, Poland's Tauron MKS Daborwa Gornicza was led by middle blocker Kamila Ganszczyk's amazing 12 stuffs and 17 points in total in their 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 26-24) win over the Czech Republic's Age Prostejov.

It was all over when the Polish side, who had also won in four away, claimed the third set before coach Juan Manuel Serramalera of Argentina brought on a few of his subs for the fourth.

Daborwa Gornicza join Azerbaijan's Azerrail Baku, France's St Raphael Var and Turkey's Fenerbahce Istanbul in Pool C.

The 2017 FIVB Club World Championship, 8-14 May in Kobe, will feature hosts Hisamitsu Springs, reigning Asian champions NEC Red Rockets of Kawasaki, the 2017 European and South American club champions plus four Wild Cards to be determined.

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