T&T veteran middle-blocker Marc-Anthony Honore and SL Benfica made it a perfect ten wins from as many matches in their three-peat bid when the Portugal Volleyball Federation Men’s Honda A-1 Division continued on Wednesday.
Playing away from home at the Pavilhao Arquitecto Jeronimo Reis, Benfica, the two-time reigning league champions and nine-time winners got off to a positive start and won the first set, against mid-table AA Espinho, 25-18.
However, the host backed by their home crowd bounced back to take the second set 22-25, setting the stage for an intriguing ball the rest of the way.
But with the start of the European Champions League campaign just over a week away, Benfica upped their game the rest of the way and took the next two sets 25-21, 25-18 to make it ten straight league wins to start the season, and second on the 14-club table with 28 points, two behind AJF Bastardo (10-1) who have played a match more while Sporting CP sits third with 24 points and an 8-3 record, one point ahead of Esmoriz (8-2) while Leixoes (6-4), AA Espinho (5-4) and Vitoria SC (4-6) occupy the remaining top eight playoff spots with 23, 20, 15, and 15 points, respectively.
This weekend, the 37-year-old Honore, now in his 14th year as a professional, and his teammates will seek to make it 12 straight wins.
On Saturday, Benfica faces fifth-placed Leixoes (6-4) and then tenth-placed Caldas (4-5) on Sunday (November 28), before they make a return to the CEV Men’s Volleyball Champions League 20-club group stage on December 1, against Russia’s Zenit St Petersburgh.
Earlier this month, Benfica secured their spot in the 2021 CEV Men’s Volleyball Champions League group stages for only the second time in club history with a four-set win at CEZ Karlovarsko at the Hala Micovych Sports Hall, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.
Beaten at home in the Third Round first-leg encounter last Thursday, by CEZ Karlovarsko 16-25, 22-25, 25-22, 28-26, 12-15 to end a 16-match winning streak in all competitions, Benfica needed to win by a 3-0 or 3-1 to advance automatically.
And the Portuguese after losing the first set, 20-25, rallied to take the next three sets 25-23, 25-21, 25-23 to claim the home-and-away tie 5-4 on aggregate.
With the win, Benfica took their place in the four-team round-robin Pool D alongside Russia’s Zenit St Petersburgh, Germany’s Berlin Recycling Volleys, and Serbians’ Vojvodina Seme Novi Sad for their qualifiers from December 1, 2021, to February 16, 2022.
In the other semifinal, Hebar Pazardzhik battled past host Olympiacos VC 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-23 to complete a 6-2 aggregate triumph after winning win at home 26-24, 25-18, 20-25, 25-23 in the first-leg last Thursday (November 18).
Hebar Pazardzhik now joins Jastrzebski Wegiel (Poland), VFB Friedrichshafen (Germany), and Belgium’s Knack Roeselare in Pool A.
The other pools will see Dynamo Moscow, Ziraat Bankasi Ankara, Greenyard Maaseik and Projekt in D; Cucine Lube Civitanova, ZAKSA Kedzieryn-Kozie, Merkur Maribor and Lokomotiv Novosibirsk in C and Sir Sicoma Monini Perugia, Fenebarche HDI Istanbul, AS Cannes Dragons and Itas Trentino in Pool E.
At the end of the round-robin phase, the five pool winners and the three best second-place finishers will advance to the quarterfinals.