In our last report for the 2011-2012 German Bundesliga we will slightly rewind the time to catch a glimpse of what happened in the Final series one month ago. Despite being a step behind the top European leagues in Russia, Italy and Poland in terms of sponsors, money and players, the German Bundesliga still keeps its level of attractiveness.
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As we already introduced earier, the final spot was occupied by the dominant Generali Unterhaching and the huge surprise of the season Berlin Recycling Volleys. The big name missing for the first time in a while was VfB Friedrichshafen, they had been knocked out by the guys from the capital Berlin.
After the elimination of the mighty VfB, which had won the Pokal (German Cup) a few weeks earlier, Generali Unterhaching appeared to be the title favourite in both technical and psychological aspect. The newly built formation of Berlin has been discussed before, they were expected to show results in the next years to come as the chemistry in the team had not worked well since the season launch. Unterhaching had to do something that looked simple based on their home season results – take all their home games, thus using their home advantage fully, and would be crowned for the historical first time with the title.
Both sides took turns to win realtively easy home games. Unterhaching prevailed twice in their small sports hall, but Berlin Recycling Volleys responded perfectly in as many times in front of a fully-packed “Max Schmelling Halle” in the German capital. The favourites from Bayern missed to win the title in Berlin in the fourth game, losing heavily 0-3 without even showing a sign of their great home performance.
And just in synchron to the entire season, the dramatic fifth final offered the crowd everything they could possibly want (well, as you will read below, actually almost everything). The organizers had huge problems providing access to all the people willing to watch the fifth game. The limited seating capacity of the small “Generali Arena” had been completely sold out four days before the encounter. One would need to go to the hall one and a half hours before the game to find a free seat. Haching were preparing themselves for a third consecutive home victory without any roster problems. Urpo Sivula‘s ankle injury had prevented him from playing in any of the five final games, without him the attack diversity of Berlin had gone much worse.
Berling Recycling Volleys seemed determined and were patiently waiting their chances from the beginning. A tight first set (29-31) went in favour of the guests after 35 minutes. The joker for the coach Mark Lebedew in the whole final series was Haching’s ex-player Roko Sikiric, who inspired his teammates for the important opening set win. Unterhaching could not be silent at home and quite deservedly won the next two parts 25-22 and 25-21. Alex Shafranovich enjoyed great games against Berlin previously, but was relatively quiet in the fifth one. Despite the 2-1 lead, he was replaced by Robert Hupka. As usual, the main weapons for the coach Mihai Paduretu were Christian Dunnes and Denis Kaliberda, the latter probably showing his best volleyball ever. Great blocks from Max Gunthor and Freddy Cedeno helped the home side comeback as well.
The guests, however, had a final word to say. Paul Carroll lead Berlin to a 2-2 draw after a convincing 18-25. Good words for the young US setter Kawika Shoji too who matured a lot during his debut year in Germany and had his contribution to the competitiveness of Berlin.
Pushed to the wall, Haching did not tremble until the very end and found themselves with a 14-12 tie-break lead and two balls for a first Bundesliga triumph. The crowd from Bayern was surely feeling the celebrations to follow and mark the end of an otherwise amazing season. The jump serve by Hupka found the net, leaving only one more chance for sealing the win. And then, all of a sudden, surprisingly even for the visiting fans and Berlin Recycling Volleys management, the float serves of Tomas Kmet left the Haching setter and his compatriot Branislav Skladany with limited options in attack and as a result three consecutive stuff blocks by Felix Fischer and Scott Touzinsky sent the title in direction Berlin for the fourth time in history.
A neutral fan could not do else, but gasp and meditate upon such a final of the season long after it was over. The hard work done by Paduretu and his boys gave them no gold, the ambition of the Manager Niroomand made him successful in the first year of his new project. The quality of players and volleyball might not be a strong side for the Bundesliga in general, but as far as intrigue and suspence is concerned, this final was one of the best in Europe.
Luckily for the empty-handed Unterhaching, they will have a chance to compete in the Champions League due to a wild card assignment. They will have to look for a replacement of Kaliberda who accepted the offer of Tonno Callipo Vibo Valentia in the Italian Serie A for the new 2012-2013 season. The same wild card distribution goes to the Cup holder VfB Friedrichshafen who will join the new champions Berlin Recycling Volleys for a record-breaking German participation of the strongest club tournament in Europe. Berlin already started the roster preparation and signed the German national team player Robert Kromm. Maybe there are brighter days awaiting their project.