Ankara, Turkey, January 8, 2016. The Netherlands were the first team to book a ticket to the final of the European Olympic Qualifier, as the silver medallists from the 2015 EuroVolley outclassed Italy in the first semi-final at Baskent Hall in Ankara. Coach Giovanni Guidetti’s team delivered a consistently solid performance downing Italy in straight sets 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-19). On Saturday the Netherlands will face Russia in the final of the European Olympic Qualifier for the sole ticket available to Rio 2016. The match will be a remake of the EuroVolley final that Russia claimed in early October in Rotterdam.
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The Netherlands vs Italy 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-19)
Pool A winners the Netherlands were up against the runners-up from Pool B Italy in the first semi-final of the women’s European Olympic Qualifier in Ankara. The Netherlands’ deadliest weapon from the service line, team captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues with six aces this far in the tournament, opened the semi-final with a solid series, and the Dutch were ahead 5-0, before Italy started to get rid of the pressure. Italy still trailed 11:16 at the second technical time-out, but if the Dutch team did not know Italy’s 202-cm tall tower Valentina Diouf before the match, they certainly did after the first set. The Italian opposite scored two aces in a row and levelled the set at 21-21. The Netherlands took a new lead, but Diouf made the score even again with a spike from the middle. The Netherlands had two set points in their hands, but Valentina Diouf cancelled the first with her tenth individual point in the set, before Anne Buijs with a sneaky tip at the net wrapped the set up 25-23.
Before the semi-final the two teams’ top scorers were Lonneke Slöetjes and Paola Egonu with 50 and 49 points, respectively. And especially Slöetjes stepped up and secured some crucial points to the Dutch account as she won three points in a row giving the Netherlands a 16:13 lead at the second technical time-out of the second set. The head coach of Italy Marco Bonitta had no other choice than calling a much needed time-out as his team trailed 16:20 and his second and last followed at 17:22. Italian setter Francesca Ferretti had difficulties in finding the right formula to surprise the Dutch defence, and when Maret Balkestein-Grothues scored her fifth point in the match the Dutch set win was sealed at 25-21.
Before the semi-final with the Oranjes, Italy’s best blocker in the tournament was Martina Guiggi with nine block points. Going into the third set, the middle blocker had not scored any points yet, but she made up for this helping Italy trail by only two points (6:8) at the first technical time-out. However, it looked like the Italian faith in a comeback dissolved little by little. The Oranjes kept finding creative attacks from the toolbox and converted their 16:10 lead at the second technical time-out into a convincing set win (25-19). The last point was scored by their star opposite Lonneke Slöetjes.
Head coach of the Netherlands Giovanni Guidetti: "I feel very, very, very good! What my team did in this tournament is really exceptional, because we were almost in hell after that first game against Germany. But after this match we had an amazing team meeting and looked each other in the eyes making a deal to give the best of ourselves," he said.
"Of course we cannot play our best volleyball here, because for that you need to get a lot of training together, which we did not have, but at least we are putting all our passion and all of our hearts to go to the Olympics. The way these girls are playing is making me feel a very lucky coach," he added. "This is my job and that is what I do. If you ask me to work for the Cameroonian team I would give everything for the team of Cameroon. So I do not care where or which team I am coaching as I will always give everything for the team I am responsible for. No matter if Italy win or lose tomorrow, they have done a great job in this tournament. If you think about it, they are playing in the top 4 with 17, 18, and 19-year-old girls and they are competing with the best teams in Europe. Today was not easy at all for us, so I need to congratulate the Italian staff and federation for the amazing job they are doing".
Dutch top scorer Lonneke Slöetjes with 19 points said: "I am happy! We are in the final. That is what it was all about, and tomorrow we have one game left to give all of ourselves," she said.
"We played against Italy also at the European Championships and won against them. Before the game we felt confident, also thanks to our previous games in this tournament that had provided a boost of confidence. With our team it is all about what is happening now. We know that we have a strong team and now we just want to prove that with some good results. Tomorrow we' will play our hearts out and give everything to get the ticket to Rio," she added.
Head coach of Italy Marco Bonitta: “We did our very best in the first two sets where I think we matched the Netherlands all the way. We knew that the Netherlands were strong, and today they showed that they are one of the best teams in the world,” he said.
“Good luck to the Netherlands in the final tomorrow where I think they have a good chance of winning the tournament. We now also have our focus on tomorrow where we can secure a new chance for ourselves to play in Japan and book a ticket to the Rio Olympics,” he added.
Italian top scorer Valentina Diouf with 17 points: “I think we started the match very well and we literally did everything we could to win. But the Netherlands were too strong today,” she said. “Tomorrow is our last chance. We really want to win so we can go to Japan and from there on to the Olympics. I think we are doing many things right. Tomorrow we just need to be stronger,” she concluded.