IBB Polonia London's European dream is over after the Polish ex-pat volleyballers were unable to prevent Dutch opponents Draisma Dinamo Apeldoorn taking a decisive second set at Crystal Palace this evening.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg of their last-16 CEV European Challenge Cup tie, Polonia needed to win 3-0 or 3-1 to force a golden set decider but lost the first game and, although they took the second set, a disastrous start to the third cost them the tie in an eventual 3-2 victory for the Londoners.
It had all started promisingly for Polonia with the first two points going their way but Bart van Garderen pulled one back with a disguised reverse spike that would prove more effective than Polonia's throughout the opening set.
Apeldoorn were back on terms within two points and the hosts would go on to surrender slim two-point advantages three more times before the visitors found their legs to open up a 24-20 cushion which, despite a couple of poor serves, proved enough to carry the first set 22-25.
That meant there was no wriggle room for the Ealing-based side and it looked as though they would choke again in the second set when, after leading for 25 straight points – and opening up a four-point gap – they allowed Apeldoorn back in at 23-23, with the help of a tight-looking line call against Mihail Stoev.
The Poles held their nerve though, and with the visitors' Nico Manenschijn serving into the net it was left to towering Polonia captain Marius Ciortea to win the set with a trademark smash that almost took Manenschijn's arm off.
If the earlier line call looked harsh on Stoev, the Polonia player had a nightmare start to the decisive third game and his three errors cost his side the first three points as Apeldoorn raced into a five-point lead they never relinquished.
Polonia, inspired by the smashing, blocking, diving Ciortea recovered at one point to 11-12 – fittingly with a block from the skipper – but the Dutch side recovered their lead to eventually take the game – and tie – 25-18 with Manenschijn smashing between a tired-looking Stoev and Philip Smith for the penultimate point and Wessel Anker blocking Michas Saller's attempt at the net to secure his side's place in the quarter finals of the volleyball equivalent of the Champions League.
Such is the cruel nature of European ties, the hosts – the first English side to win a tie in the contest – had to play out the best of five games and, sure enough took the spoils after twice opening up a six-point lead in the fourth set with another Ciortea smash sealing it at 25-20 via struggling Apeldoorn libero Dustin Bontrop and Max Staples' desperate flail into the crowd.
The golden set went Polonia's way too, 15-9 in a game in which at one point the hosts had opened up a seven-point lead, but it is Apeldoorn that go through.