Perugia living the Indian dream with Club Volleyball World Championships triumph

Sicoma Perugia won the Men’s Volleyball Club World Championships after a dominant display in the finals against Itambe Minas.

Published : Dec 19, 2023 17:53 IST , BENGALURU - 8 MINS READ

India hosted the 2023 edition of the tournament, wherein the winners of the Prime Volleyball League participated along with clubs from around the world. Italy’s Sir Sicoma Perugia won the title.
India hosted the 2023 edition of the tournament, wherein the winners of the Prime Volleyball League participated along with clubs from around the world. Italy’s Sir Sicoma Perugia won the title. | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

India hosted the 2023 edition of the tournament, wherein the winners of the Prime Volleyball League participated along with clubs from around the world. Italy’s Sir Sicoma Perugia won the title. | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

If domination had a synonym at the FIVB Men’s Volleyball Club World Championships, it would be Sir Sicoma Perugia.

The club from Italy came into the competition as the defending champion, ready to conquer ‘The Indian dream’ — a motto written on the back collar of their staff jerseys.

India hosted the 2023 edition of the tournament, wherein the winners of the Prime Volleyball League participated along with clubs from around the world.

The 2023 edition saw Ahmedabad Defenders, the winners of PVL 2023, drawn with eventual finalists Perugia and Brazil’s Itambe Minas in Pool A.

The other Pool saw four-time winner Sada Cruzeiro Volei of Brazil and two debutants, Halkbank Spor Kulubu from Turkey and Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds.

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Defenders, in its campaign opener, put up a tough fight against Minas but lost in straight sets (22-25, 23-25, 19-25) at the Koramangala Indoor Stadium, Bengaluru.

In its second game against the Italian powerhouse Perugia, the team was awestruck by the Italian side’s fiery attack and solid defence.

Perugia beat the Defenders 25-18, 25-19, 25-11, with the Cuban-Ukrainian duo of Jesus Herrera Jaime and Oleh Plotnytskyi causing the most damage.

With this loss, the Defenders became the only team in this edition to not win a single match.

Its captain Muthusamy Appavu, however, was proud of the way his men fought, considering that it was the first time they were facing these teams and players. He expressed hope that they will make an entry into the tournament next year with a new team.

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S. Dakshinamoorthy, the Defenders’ head coach, said, “As the hosts we were able to face the top clubs from around the world. This experience will motivate our players. Players from other clubs are very experienced, have undergone a lot of training and are playing in top-level European leagues. If this culture and professionalism is developed in our country, our players can also move higher.”

The setbacks for the Indian side started with players not receiving permission from their departments for the tournament training sessions; the Defenders came together just 15-20 days prior. “What’s problematic in our system is receiving permission from the respective departments that they work for, due to which the camp started late,” said Dakshinamoorthy.

Another major woe was when SV Guru Prasanth got injured while training in Bengaluru, a few days before the tournament. Angamuthu Ramaswamy, another outside hitter, felt that the injury scare was a point of concern for the team but hoped the team would bounce back.

Adding a fresh perspective to the Defenders’ side was the inclusion of Australian outside hitter Max Senica. “We watched the opposition very excitedly. Max saw this and called a meeting. He told us that we are not their fans and should not react like that when we see them since we will be competing against them. These words stuck with me,” said Angamuthu, while recalling how Max expected them to stay grounded.

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The home team enjoyed the support of fans from neighbouring States as well. Amidst the white placards and flags of the Ahmedabad team was a red banner from Chembada, the official fan club of its PVL rivals, the Calicut Heroes. The banner read — ‘India’s pride at World Volley Club Champs.’

Among the other five teams, two players got the most cheers from the Indian audience — Sunbirds’ famed London Olympics 2012 winner Dmitry Muserskiy, who played opposite hitter, and Perugia’s captain, Wilfredo Leon, who was benched for the entire tournament due to an injury.

Pool A saw Perugia comfortably top the table, while in Pool B, all the teams lost at least one match. The opening match saw the clash of the two debutants — Halkbank and Sunbirds — in which the latter pipped the former 25-23, 25-23, 25-16 after staying neck-and-neck in the first two sets. Also, for the first time in this edition, a five-set thriller took place when Sada edged past Sunbirds, 25-21, 31-29, 28-30, 22-25, 15-12.

However, all did not go as planned for the Brazilian side in the next match as it lost 26-24, 25-18, 28-26 to Halkbank.

Halkbank, needing either a 3-0 or 3-1 win to enter the semis, pulled it off courtesy the combination and tactical understanding between French Olympic champion Earvin Ngapeth and Dutch captain Nimir Abdel-Aziz.

However, the over-dependence on the two led Halkbank to falter in the first two sets against Perugia before attempting a comeback in the third. Yet it narrowly failed, 25-14, 25-16, 31-29.

The other semifinal saw a power tussle between Sunbirds and Minas, with the former heavily reliant on Muserskiy. Minas also faced an unforeseen circumstance when its star player, Isac Santos, suffered a fall in the first set and was benched. Michael Sanchez and Marcus Vinicius Evangelista Coelho stepped up in Santos’ absence to seal the fifth set and match, 22-25, 25-22, 28-30, 25-20, 17-15.

Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds
Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds | Photo Credit: Instagram/Sunbirds

Japan’s Suntory Sunbirds | Photo Credit: Instagram/Sunbirds

Sunbirds eventually clinched third place, coming back from a two-set deficit against Halkbank, to take the next three sets and win 17-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-12, much to the delight of the 1000-plus audience.

The day of the final saw a huge crowd, with many coming with handmade placards ready to cheer their favourite players and get an opportunity to get autographs.

Among them were two friends who had come with their families. The two played college-level volleyball during their days at Trichy National College. They came from Tamil Nadu to meet with their favourite players, which included Muserskiy and Alain Junior De Armas.

The final practice session before the match saw two contrasting training patterns. While the Perugia players were kicking the ball towards each other, Minas’ trainers were offering tips and helping the players stretch in sync. Then came the last spike practice for the tournament, where balls flew all over the stadium with the audience cheering and hitting the ball away every time it came close to them.

To get a better view of their favourite players, the audience resorted to sitting on the floor in the stand, and they were not disappointed as the Italian and Brazilian outfits provided ample entertainment.

Brazilian club Itambe Minas finished as runner-up in Bengaluru
Brazilian club Itambe Minas finished as runner-up in Bengaluru

Brazilian club Itambe Minas finished as runner-up in Bengaluru

In less than an hour and a half after the whistle that started the final between Perugia and Minas, the winner was decided. With a 25-13, 25-21, 25-19 clean victory, Perugia became just the third club in the tournament’s history, apart from Sada and Trentino Volley, to successfully defend the title.

According to Minas’ captain Lucas Loh, despite the team having a chance to get ahead of Perugia in the second set, they could not make the most of it. “This (the points Perugia earned back) is all in their service and the potential to get back in the game. Because of their service, we couldn’t do that (create a lead and win the set),” he said.

Another setback for the Brazilian outfit was the absence of Santos on the court. “Isac is one of our most important spikers, who exerts immense pressure on the opposition and spikes high and hard. So (his absence) was felt. However, there is no excuse for us this time as we had good players that we could bank on. And we did a good job in the semifinal,” said Loh.

Plotnytskyi, the most valuable player of the tournament and the best outside hitter, was glad that the four consecutive days of hustle and back-to-back games without a day’s break had finally come to a halt. However, the Ukrainian was pleased to note that the team achieved the goal that it worked towards.

“We are happy that we won — it was our goal. But our main goal was to make our team stronger and grow as the tournament progressed, as we had to play for four continuous days with different food, gym and other changes. But we are professionals, so we had to be ready for this,” said the 26-year-old.

In the end, Sicoma did end up fulfilling its motto and realising ‘The Indian Dream’ and hopes to replicate the same in 2024.

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