Italy ends Belgium's winning streak to claim provisional leadership in Pool I
2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship - Men
Gdynia, Poland, August 29, 2012. Italy moved up to the top of the standings in Pool I via a spectacular performance whereby the young “Azzurri” stopped the winning streak of Belgium, doing so in a very impressive fashion (3:0; 25-17, 25-19, and 25-23). This result brings the guys around head coach Marco Bonitta back on track after the major disappointment resulting from their 2:3 defeat to Poland on Monday where they had not capitalized on a two-set lead. The hosts are also in contention for a semifinal spot after routing Serbia in straight sets, so everything is wide open as far as the top positions in the group are concerned, with Belgium playing Finland on Thursday and then waiting for the results of the matches opposing Italy to Serbia and Poland to Russia to know their destiny in the competition.
The game starring Belgium and Italy was very much likely to have a huge impact on the final standings of the group. Belgium was the sole team with three wins in as many matches so far while Italy had lost a great opportunity on Monday by dissipating a 2-0 lead to eventually lose at the tie-break to the hosts of Poland. The young “Azzurri” opened splendidly (10:5) imposing their pace, by working well also with their middle blockers, while Belgium looked a little faulty for the first time since the start of the tournament. Italy kept a margin of three also by the second technical time-out; in comparison with the previous matches setter Marco Izzo was searching more often for the middle-blockers and Belgium struggled to find the right response to the great intensity and aggressiveness displayed by the Italians (19:13). Italy reigned supreme in almost all fundamentals and the provisional 1:0 was soon registered via another spike from the middle by Fabio Ricci (25-17).
The course of the game did not change in the opening of set 2 with Belgian coach Steven Vanmedegael stopping the match at 6:3 for Italy, trying to shake his guys and to find a way to stop that storm they were apparently not able to stand. However, Italy pushed it hard and by profiting of the mistakes committed by their opponents, combined with some clever play, their advantage got bigger and bigger (19:14). Probably along with their opening match of the tournament where they had downed Russia in straight sets, the Italians were playing their best game so far in Gdynia, showing great consistency in all aspects of the game and another Belgian error, this time by Francois Lecat, sealed the final 25-19 for Italy.
After two relatively easy sets, Italy suffered a short black-out in the early phases of the third set, going down 2:6, but coach Bonitta – evidently furious – found the right words to fire his guys, as they quickly fought their way back to 7 all and they even cruised to the front at the first technical break (8:7). The score remained very tight up to the second mandatory stop before Italy found some holes in the Belgian defense line to break away (20:18) and their redemption for the defeat suffered to Poland two days ago was finally there via a terrific crosscourt by Simmaco Tartaglione (25-23).
Russia opened the program on Wednesday in Gdynia by scoring their second win of the tournament after cruising to a rather speedy 3:0 (25-15, 25-21, and 25-17) to edge the still winless Finland.
The game started with a minute of silence to commemorate the head coach of Russia’s women’s national team, Sergey Ovchinnikov (44), whose premature death was announced this morning by the Russian media (he apparently committed suicide while being on a training camp in Croatia with the team of Dinamo MOSCOW). The teams actually started out quite nervous by committing many mistakes and the score stayed very close up to 10 all. Russia gradually found their play (16:13) and with the precious contribution of their tallest player, Alexey Kobilev, they eventually cruised to the final 25-15.
Russia quickly got to the front in set 2 (8:5), and all players mentored by Sergey Shlyapnikov did their work properly, even though the above mentioned Kobilev as well as Ivan Demakov were particularly outstanding (16:10). With some substitutions Finland managed to reduce the gap (21:18) but could not stop the run of their opponents who anchored by Kobilev went for the 25-21 that called for the provisional 2:0.
Kobilev set the tone also for the early phases of set 3 (8:4) but then a drop of concentration on the Russian side of the court let Finland come back (9:8). After a time-out, Russia got back on track (12:8) and got to the front by six points at the second technical time-out. That basically determined the fate of the game and Russia could pocket a well-deserved 3-0 win.
Poland rushed to their third win of the tournament on Wednesday night by powering past the 2010 bronze medalists of Serbia in three straight sets (25-21, 25-16, 25-22) to move up to the second rank of the standings in Pool I.
In a game that ended the daily program and that was also extremely important to determine the possible composition of the semis, Poland and Serbia squared off in Gdynia with the home heroes having a positive 2-1 record while Serbia had clearly disappointed by losing two of their three matches so far. With Italy’s win against Belgium having revolutionized the standings of the group, Poland also needed a positive result to possibly make it to the top 4 of this European Championship; the opening set saw both teams not able to claim a small margin up to 18 all but there Poland accelerated the pace powered by their star Maciej Muzaj and Lukasz Lapszynski thereby pocketing the provisional 1:0 (25-21) that was much to the delight of some 1,000 home fans. That good momentum was stretched also to the opening of set 2 (11:5) as the Serbians, including their star, 2012 Olympian Uros Kovacevic, looked sloppy and sleepy as well. The brother of Nikola, another top name of Serbian Volleyball, eventually woke up to anchor his side to a tie at 11 but that was all, as the Polish express re-started its march – also by profiting of the many errors committed by Serbia – for a 13:3 run that contributed a flurry of set balls, with the third being cashed on a serving error by Sinisa Zarkovic (25-16). The third set turned into a kind of rollercoaster with Serbia going up a couple of times (6:4, 11:9) but being always caught up by Poland that regularly found the tempo necessary to flip the charts around, defending well and supporting its quest for glory with very solid jump serves. With yet another ugly performance, last year’s FIVB Youth World Champions were going to turn into the major disappointment of the tournament; at 21-18 everything looked just fine for the home side, but coach Nawrocki needed a time-out at 21 all before Maciej Muzaj took his team by the hand to claim a more than well-deserved 3-0 win.
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