Ankara, Turkey, January 6, 2016. Make it or break it was the headline for Italy in today’s crucial match against Belgium. A win was needed for the Azzurre if they wanted to keep the hope of a semi-final spot alive. After a thrilling tie-breaker, Italy could celebrate a narrow 3-2 win (16-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-17, 17-15). With the result, Italy are back in the race for a spot in the semi-finals. After all four teams in Pool B have played two matches, Russia are in 1st place with two wins and five points, Belgium are in 2nd with one win and four points, Italy follow in 3rd with one win and two points, whereas Poland are last with two losses and only one point.
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Belgium vs Italy 2-3 (25-16, 23-25, 25-22, 17-25, 15-17)
Belgium could secure a spot in the semi-finals after having won their first match in the tournament on Tuesday with Poland. Italy on the other hand had their backs against the wall and were forced to win to keep their hopes of a semi-final spot alive after having lost their first match to Russia.
Russia are already through to the semis with two wins out of two, and in the other end of the Pool table, Poland are without any win but a single point.
Knowing what was at stake, the first set and the mental game could begin. Belgium came out with all guns blazing and seemed to have their minds set on success leading comfortably 8-2 at the first technical time-out. The Azzurre were unable to stand the storm, and as the entire Belgian team contributed to their scoring, the Yellow Tigers kept their pace high all the way through to the end to win the opening set 25-16.
Italian mentor Marco Bonitta adjusted a few things for the second set. Francesca Ferretti had luck and skills to vary her setting more and created better scoring opportunities both in the centre and at the outside position. Paola Egonu had joined the actions earlier on and was the one helping to finish the job with more power in attack (this resulting into five points in the set, and 21 in total at the end of the match). Belgium head coach Gert Vande Broek called a time-out when his team trailed 8-13, and it paid off as the Yellow Tigers scored the next three points in a row. The set became very close as Italy were unable to convert their first two set points, but still ended up winning 25-23.
Paola Egonu put a massive service pressure on Belgium in the beginning of the third set and forced them to call a time-out at 6-3 for the Azzurre. That changed things over, as the Yellow Tigers hit five points in a row through the solid blocking duo of Lise Van Hecke and Laura Heyrman. As the score moved to 19-18 in favour of Belgium, the importance of a good side-out was evident. The teams took turn in scoring all the way till 24-22 where Belgium just had the extra margin and wrapped the set up 25-22.
It was now or never for Italy in the fourth set. Another loss would put them out of the race for the Olympics, while the hope of a ticket could blossom again with a win. Belgium were determined to shatter the Italian dream and claimed an 8-7 lead at the first technical time-out. But with strong service and fighting bravely, Italy clawed back and their effort eventually resulted in a 25-17 set win which re-opened the fate of the game.
Italy head coach Marco Bonitta brought in a joker for the tie-break in the shape of Anna Danesi, who made her first appearance in the match. She delivered immediately first with a block followed by a spike from the middle giving Italy a 5-2 lead and forcing Belgium to call a time-out. After the score was levelled at 10-all, Italy found themselves ahead with three points again at 13-10. Italy thought they had their first match point in their hands, but Belgium won a video challenge on a block touch by the Azzurre and as a result the score changed from 14-12 to 13-all. Belgium survived the first match point at 14-13, but misused one of their own, before Italy could celebrate their tie-break win after the fourth service ace in the match by Paola Egonu 17-15.
Italy Valentina Diouf scored 20 points in the match: “We knew that we had to win this match if we wanted to keep alive our dream of a ticket to the Rio Olympics. If we had lost again, we would have been eliminated from the tournament. I am really glad that we managed to put in a strong team effort in such an important match. We all came together, and I am glad that I had the chance to contribute to the win,” she says.
“We will play Poland in the last pool match. They are a very strong team, even though they have lost two matches so far. It will take a performance like the one from today to beat them,” she adds.
Belgium star opposite Lise Van Hecke: "I am really disappointed. If this is the game that will keep us away from the last 4 in the tournament, the disappointment will be even bigger. But that is something we do not have to think about at this point. Tomorrow there is another game and we need to try to bring everything together against the Russian team."