Russia have been training hard and playing hard. The Men’s team was picked in late October, and despite the huge distance between their player bases (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhniy Novgorod), they’ve trained over 20 times. Their second place result at the Confederations Cup marked them down as a team to watch – and they have been worth watching here. A one point win vs Spain (13-12) and a one point loss vs Canada (10-11) show that they can play with the best here in Royan. The team is very experienced, and anyone who wants to see the Russian skill first-hand can join the annual “Challenge of St Petersburg” tournament, held each July.
Ukraine have also been impressive so far. They avoided warm-up tournaments in order to take a completely injury-free side into WCBU. They came fourth in ECBU 2013 (a big improvement on their WCBU 2011 performance). Now they’re trying to make an impact on the worldwide beach scene, sitting joint second in the pool (with Russia and others) on five wins, two losses. However, with Ukraine, Canada and Netherlands as their remaining pool games, coach Grygorii Baklanov needed his team to bring home a good performance here.
A small editorial note – outside of Ultimate, these two countries have what could be loosely described as ‘history’. While it was just my perspective, I got no sense of that in this game. Nor did any of the rest of the sideline from what I could tell after the game. They behaved to the absolute highest standard. There was cheering from the fans, and spirit on the pitch. They played their hearts out in a tough game, and made it all about the Ultimate. It was a joy to watch, regardless of the result.
Russia start on offence, and it’s immediately clear how much both team want to win. Butikov finds Petrenko for a Russia goal, past two Ukrainian layouts. Ukraine then respond with an instant long-shot goal. 1-1. Then Ukraine turn on the gas. Two quick Ukrainian breaks catch Russia off guard, still, Anton Butikov puts it in simply for Russia. UKR 3 – 2 RUS. Both teams are ruthless on offence, as zero-turn points make it UKR 5 – 4 RUS (admittedly with Russia’s Mikhail Khudobin performing an amazing grab to bail out captain Ilya Dannenberg’s scoober break).
Then, finally, a Ukrainian mistake – a simple miscommunication on a dump pass. Russia had to wait until the tenth point of the game, and they convert well. UKR 5 – 5 RUS. Ukraine manage to gather themselves, and take half 7-6. Any mistake has been punished by the other team so far. After half, however, Russia find another gear. Ukrainian Vitaliy Naulko drops the disc, and is then skied by Russian Pavel Averin for the score. Another Ukrainian drop, and Russia break again. They’re a break up for the first time. UKR 7 – 8 RUS.
Ukraine convert the next point off a rare Russian drop, but it’s a little too late. Butikov gets his fourth assist for Russia, and they take a time out in the next point to steady themselves. The Ukrainian fans start singing to cheer their team on. Ukraine concede again, and the fans keep singing, determined to keep spirits high. 8-10. However, it’s two more Russia breaks before Ukraine finally convert again. It’s too little too late, as Butikov assists his fifth point of the game.
Quotes from the sideline
Yuliya Akramova (Russia Women): I’m really happy the guys won. It would be really cool for them to reach the power pools. Ukraine are a good team, they’re hard to play against. They have fast legs, and good hucks.
Maxim Peshkov (Ukraine Fan): It was a hard game for Ukraine.
Alix Chachun (Volunteer): A really good game from both sides. It was fun to see everyone chant.
Grygorii Baklanov (Ukraine Coach): We lost focus in the middle of the game. The game was very competitive at the beginning. Both sides were very fast.
Yuri Rovda (Russia Men): This game has a huge history. We’ve all known each other for ten to fifteen years. We know each other’s strength and weaknesses. We try to ignore the difference between our countries and just focus on the Ultimate. They were hard to figure out on their first breaks. I think our legs brought us victory, and our athleticism won through. I really enjoyed this game, and playing against my friends on the other team.