Madrid, July 9, 2003 – Italy and Bulgaria met in the opening match of day two
of the FIVB $15 million World League finals to deliver a feast of athleticism
and technical skills that characterizes the modern game. Italy was victorious
3-1 to stay in the tournament but not without difficulties.
”We had to win this match to stay in and this was our only possibility to
reach the final four,” said Italy’s Luigi Mastrangelo.
For the second day in a row Bulgaria, in their bid for a semifinals berth,
started like an express train and claimed the first set 25-21 while the new
look Italy, under coach Gian Paolo Montali, took time to settle.
However Italy, deploying a core of stalwarts that this season look more
compact and vigorous under Montali’s guiding hand, as well as some new faces,
quickly ran up a strong lead in the second set. At 24-19 they had the chance
to break even and Samuel Papi, deploying his usual elegance on the net, tipped
a gentle shot over and out of reach of the big hitting Bulgarians to level at
Again in the third set Italy surged ahead to 8-5 then left the court for a
time out pep talk.
The third set was passionate, with the mercury rising on tempers as the set
progressed. However Italy found itself in the box seat again with a handy six-
point lead at 20-14.
Bulgaria shortened to 21-23 when Papi drove a ball into the net and Bulgaria
blocked to within one point. Then the score was 23-all when the Italian block
kicked in and they wrapped up the set 25-23 to be 2-1 in front.
Bulgaria was not through however and captured an early lead in the fourth set.
Montali brought in Paolo Cozzi to shore up the defense and Italy pulled back
to a one point deficit, then leveled at 14-all, only to see the advantage again
slip in Bulgaria’s favor. Italy extended to a 21-20 lead, then one point later they
were just three away from staying in the tournament. Bulgaria narrowed to 23-
24 but it was the Italian finesse that won the day as they closed at 25-23 for a 3-
1 finish. On Thursday they now face a fearsome Brazil in the last match of
Best scorer was Italy’s Francesco Biribanti with 13 points, but Evgeny Ivaonov
was right behind him for Bulgaria with 12.
The Bulgarians, certainly a team of the future, came to the finals with a tough
draw facing Russia, Brazil and Italy in Pool F. The match on Wednesday was a do
or die for both teams, who on Tuesday had lost matches against Russia and Brazil.
While Bulgaria, with two losses, now has to prepare to exit the tournament,
their performance in the 14th edition has labeled them as exceptional in
compact skills and athleticism. When they can steam through all their sets in
the style that they begin, then they will be a team to be feared, even by the