Unterhaching, February 2 - Generali Haching will host Jastrzebski Wegiel in the first leg of the next round of the CEV Champions League tonight, Europe's top men's volleyball competition. The match will take place at Generali Sport Arena, first serve at 19:00.
Haching is coached by Mihai Paduretu, who has put together a team that is one of the best in Germany and Europe. Like FC Bayern in football, Haching are always competitive in all three major competitions in their sport. And this year is no different. Along with moving on in the European tournament, Haching lead the Volleyball Bundesliga table along with VfB Friedrichshafen.
Both teams will play each other in the German Cup final on March 6th. The Bavarians are the two-time holders of the domestic cup including a win in 2009 against Friedrichshafen. However, the team from the Bodensee have ended Haching's league seasons the past FIVE years in the playoffs, the last two in the finals.
The team this year are led by German national players Max Günthör and Ferdinand Tille, who have helped their team more than once this season to win crucial games with their key plays. Leonardo dos Santos' contribution will be important as well. The Brazilian hitter is a real driving rouser, the leader of the team who can urge his teammates in difficult phases of a game.
All three will have the task of leading the team to a volleyball treble, starting tonight against the Polish club in the Champions League. Despite playing well in Europe, Jastrzebski Wegiel are struggling in their domestic league. They currently occupy 7th place with only 18 points after only 6 wins against 12 losses.
What could be their key element in beating Haching is their coach, Lorenzo Bernardi. Never heard of him? Bernardi was voted as the best player in the 20th century. The Italian won during his long career nine championships, five domestic cups, and three Supercups - all in Italy. Add to that four Champions League titles, two Cup Winners' Cups, four CEV Cups, two European Supercups, a silver medal at Atlanta 1996 and two World Championships with Italy.
His temperament led his current team to win their Champions League group. As a matter of fact they started their group play poorly, losing their first three matches. Bernardi changed the formation of his team, and won the following three games, all 3-0. This furious comeback allowed the Polish team to end the qualification at the top of the table and move on in the tournament.
Paduretu is really concerned about Bernardi's international experience. "I am looking forward to play this important game against this very strong Polish team, but we have to stay focused from the start to the end," says Haching's Romanian coach. "What I am scared of is Bernardi's long-time experience. He has won two World Cups with Italy; he knows how to motivate his team in the key moments of a match."
Tonight will be an extremely entertaining game which can end with any result, but Haching should be able to win at home, prediction 3-1. A very important role will be played by the home crowd. The Generali Sport Arena is expected to be sold out - security had to turn away people before the previous Champions League match. Paduretu's men could take a massive advantage of the incessant support of their fans.
After tonight's match, Haching will host A!B!C! Titan Berg. Land on Sunday at 16:00 before travelling to Poland for the return match Tuesday night.
Editor's note: Follow Simone and Salman Mitha at the match tonight on Twitter @sal_TMT_sports