Madrid, July 10, 2003 - Brazil waltzed through their match with Italy on
Thursday evening here in this converted bullfighting ring in the Spanish
capital to set themselves up as favorites for the FIVB $15 million World
The Green and Golds blazed their way through the match 3-1 ( 31-29, 25-21,
17-25, 25-23) to finish top of their table and set themselves up for a battle
with either hosts Spain or the Czech Republic in the final four. Spain goes into
its final match with hopes of a semifinal place but will have a tough battle
with the Czech Republic.
Italy will now meet Serbia and Montenegro in the second final after the European and Olympic champions topped Pool E following their win over Greece earlier on Thursday.
That Italy was under pressure in this important clash was obvious after Bulgaria's
surprise victory over Russia in the morning session leaving them with the
smallest mathematical chance of making the final four, and only if Italy
suffered a grave defeat at the hands of the World Champions.
This was enough to set coach Gian Paolo Montali prowling on the sidelines like a hungry panther.
The Brazilians looked frisky as they delivered their usual devastating game
and at 20-18 in the opening set it was all going their way. Then Italy's
Alexander Fei let loose a spike of devastating proportions and Italy drew
equal at 21-21 followed by an equally vicious attack by Brazil's Gavio Giovani.
It was 24-all with Fei on serve and he drove into the net to give Brazil
their second set point.
At 26-all it was still undecided and Zlatanov served to set Samuele Papi
up for a classic spike to 27-26 for Italy. A fingertip touch to Italy's serve
put Brazil behind then Italy served out. Giovane sliced a ball into Italy's
court for 30-29 but then stepped up to serve and delivered an ace to give the set to Brazil and set the scene for a blockbuster performance.
Everything was going right for the World Champions, who ran up a 7-3 lead
in the opening stages of the second set. Italy were nervous as they hammered
home a number of serves that fell just outside the baseline but at least
they hung onto a slender lead midway through even if Brazil took the set 25-21. The good news
for Italy at that stage was that they had netted more than the 49 points
they needed to neutralize Bulgaria's miniscule mathematical chance of a place
in the final four.
Perhaps buoyed with this news, Italy powered home six quick points in the
third and went on to take a 22-16 lead, finally sealing the set for their
moment of glory with Brazil trailing by eight points. The night however belonged
to the Green and Golds and their star Gavio Giovani was all over the court at
the right moment and walked off top scorer with 19 points while the elegant
Fei collected 13 for top Italian scorer.
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