Madrid, July 13, 2003 - Volleyball's 'Old World' triumphed over the sport's
'New World' on Sunday when eight-time World League winners Italy defeated
debutants Czech Republic in the match for bronze at the FIVB $15 million
World League finals.
Italy, the most successful ever World league team, came from behind to win
the match 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 25-22 and 25-19).
"I think the Czech Republic is the real revelation of this year's World League,"
praised Italian coach Gian Paolo Montali. "But we were very concentrated
on this match which was very important for our players as we rebuild the
Italian team. It is not the most important medal here, but we wanted to be
on the podium and this is a starting point from which we can grow with this
new group," he said of his own team.
The Czechs, with nothing to lose, looked serious in the opening phase and
Jakub Novotny was in "smashing" form and helped his team retain the lead
in the opening set at 20-16.
Italy clipped the lead but by then both sides were nervous and it showed
in their timing. Czech Martin Lebl tipped a shot over the wire for set point,
Italy defended the first but not the second set point and Lebl had the honor
of stabbing home the 25-22 winner to put the newcomers in front.
Italian mini-packs Matej Cernic (192cm) and Samuele Papi (190cm) provided
some of the best action to put Italy well in front in the second set and prove
that you don't have to be 200cm tall to play at the elite level. Italy had
a four point edge at 18-14. Andrea Giani and Alessandro Fei were fierce on
the Italian block but the Czechs were still in the set trailing one point
in the closing phase. Lebl's serve went wide and Italy had set point and
went on to level at one set all.
Italy looked a different side in the vital third and quickly ran up an 18-14
lead, helped by some piercing spikes by Papi and Fei. At 22-16 they looked
strong but Czech Republic clawed back to 22-20. Then Novotny's serve went
wide and Italy had set point. Lebl defended the first but not the second
and Italy had a 2-1 lead.
The Czech team came on strong in the fourth set and had the margin at 11-7
and 13-11 until Papi dropped a shot over to equalize at 13-all. At 16-14
Italy had bought their tickets for the glory train. They squandered their
first match point when Fei's serve went wide but then Marek Novotny did
the same and the bronze medal belonged to Italy.
Cernic was top scorer with 16 points and featured strongly on the excellence
list for non scoring skills.
With the result, both sides can be content. Italy improved one place on last
year's fourth at the finals in Brazil and the Czech Republic made a stunning
debut to the World League.
"It is the first big success in international volleyball for the Czech Republic.
We showed we can play with the best in the World League and this is very
important for our team," said Czech captain Ivo Dubs.
World Champions Brazil meet Olympic champions Serbia and Montenegro in a
Battle of the Titans later on Sunday (16:00 GMT) to see who will win the 2003 World League
title. It will be the first time that these volleyball giants have met in
the final of a major international competition. Brazil runs out with a historic
edge, having a 6-2 win-loss ratio against Serbia and Montenegro in World
League matches since it began 14 years ago.
Follow all the World League action on www.fivb.org