ZAGREB – In an intense and closely fought encounter marking the opening match of this season’s Central European MEVZA League, Croatia’s reigning champions, Mladost, faced off against Austria’s sixth-placed team, Zadruga Aich/Dob. The thrilling match concluded with Mladost narrowly losing 2:3 (20:25, 25:21, 25:19, 21:25, 15:17) despite leading 2-1 in sets.
The Austrian guests seized the initiative early, establishing a 15:10 lead following a dominant 7-1 run. Mladost coach Ratko Peris‘s tactical timeouts were unable to halt the Austrians’ momentum as they clinched the first set 25:20. Peris actively sought to galvanize his team through substitutions, bringing in Ivic for Goc and Repek for Ecker, while Jakopec took the middle blocker position over Gajic.
Mladost, with the revised lineup from the first set, began the second set on a stronger note. Consistently maintaining a slender lead, they compelled Zadruga to take riskier moves, leading to more errors. Despite a late comeback attempt by the visitors, Mladost secured the second set 25:21.
The third set saw Mladost take charge with an unconventional lineup. After trailing 7:4, they rallied with a 4-0 run, eventually winning the set 25:19, marking a 2-1 lead in sets. At this stage, Mladost’s Cvanciger had amassed an impressive 21 points (26 by the end of the match).
In the fourth set, Zadruga regained control, prompting Peris to reintroduce Goc and later call a second timeout at a 6:11 deficit. Despite substitutions, Mladost couldn’t stave off a 25:21 set loss, pushing the match to a decisive fifth set.
The final set saw Mladost’s energy wane, with increasing errors. The Austrians, led by a standout performance from Camino, maintained a lead throughout. Mladost briefly turned the tide at 13:12, but Zadruga fought back tenaciously, eventually claiming the set and match 17:15.
Reflecting on the match, Mladost’s Marko Repek, who scored 8 points, acknowledged the deciding factor: “I think their experience played a key role in the end. We are a younger team, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t capitalize on our 2-1 lead. A brief lapse in focus let them back into the game, and they deservedly took the victory.”
This hard-fought match sets the tone for what promises to be an exciting and competitive MEVZA League season.