Andria, August 2 - Russia stumbled in the first set against Italy but then set the record straight by pounding the Italians in the following three sets to take the match 3-1 ( 20-25, 25-15, 25-20 and 25-17 to signal they are not yet ready to relinquish their title on the World Grand Prix
Italy ran out to face Russia with a powerful ally - the large and vocal crowd here in the Andria stadium in their second last match of the 2003 $1 million World Grand Prix and in the opening set looked the team that won the world championship title last year. Within minutes they had an 8-2 edge and the crowd was euphoric.
Elisa Togut was there when it counted and mighty mini 162cm Paula Cardulo stopped balls like missiles, unperturbed that they knocked her clean off her feet. At 15-9 Togut slammed down a spike to make it 16, exposing a vulnerability in the Russians that had so far in the tournament been invisible. Valentina Borelli made it 18-11 in a perfect deceptive flick over the net.
By now the Italians were playing compact, efficient Volleyball that thrilled the crowd and had the Russians on the run.
Russia scrambled back a few points to 21-18 taking advantage of some rare Italian errors. Then Manuela Leggeri served at match point and Silvia Croatto put home the spike to give Italy the opener 25-20
But Russia, titleholder and one of the world's best, was not ready to concede, holding a slim lead until Italy leveled at 5-all. Russia was again in front at 13-11 after a series of thrilling rallies and Euvegenia Artamanova hammered home a huge shot to 14-11.
The next phase saw classic Russian defense kick in to allow them to run up an enormous lead and take the set 25-15.
Italy hung on to the Russian coat-tails and they were equal at 12-alli in the third. Togut had service problems at critical times but Italy trailed two points at 18-20. Russia edged ahead and a touch by the Italians gave Russia the set 25-20 and the lead
In the end it was Russia's big three - Ekatrina Gamova, Artamanova and Anastasia Belikova that contrived to pull the carpet from under the Italians. They won the fourth set 25-17 and the match 3-1, probably an easier task than facing, in defeat, the wrath of their fearsome coach Nikolai Karpol.