Maccabi Tel Aviv became Israel’s first volleyball team to reach a European quarterfinal after defeating Greek champion Olympiacos yesterday at home.
Marcelo Mendes Sacchi, Maccabi’s 39-year-old wing-spiker from Brazil, was the catalyzer, while fellow wing-spiker Shon Faiga and middle-blocker Genadi Sokolov provided crucial plays to propel the team to victory.
Having lost last week in Greece, Maccabi needed to win both the match and then a tie-breaking set.
The evening started off poorly as the hosts looked unfocused. Olympiacos dominated to take the set 25-20, and it looked like yet again the Israeli side will fail to reach the quarterfinal stage.
Instead, the fiery Sacchi applied all his experience to rally the team even as it trailed midway through the second set. Where the team faltered in the first set last week, which it had dropped 30-28, Maccabi steeled its nerves and took the hotly contested set 26-24.
By the third set Maccabi looked firmly in control. Olympiacos made a myriad of unforced errors, serving into the net several times, allowing Maccabi to win the third set easily 25-19 and then go on to take the match 25-21 in the fourth set.
That win set up the tie-breaker, played to 15 points. Olympiacos won the first two points and almost broke Maccabi with a third straight point, but Sacchi saved the situation and Maccabi surged back into the lead. The lead switched twice more, but Faiga, Sokolov and Sacchi each scored down the stretch to secure a 15-12 win and book their place in the quarterfinals.
“For me it’s the best emotion of my life,” an excited Sacchi said after the game.