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Randazzo & Co. strike 14 as Italy prevail over France in a five-set thriller


Antwerp, Belgium, June 16, 2017 - Italy kept alive their slim hopes of progressing to the Final Six at the 2017 Volleyball World League as they ended France's unbeaten record in a pulsating 3-2 victory (20-25, 25-21, 24-26, 25-20, 16-14) in the opening match of the third weekend in Antwerp.

The competition’s top-scorer Stephen Boyer, who began the match with 106 points from six matches, added another 19 for France alongside team-mate Thibault Rossard, but it was sturdy Italian defence which saw the underdogs to victory.

Matteo Piano (5) and Fabio Ricci (4) led the way with some outstanding blocks as Italy largely thwarted a French attack that had outgunned so many teams in their first six matches. The Italians also looked extremely dangerous in attack with Luigi Randazzo, Luca Vettori and Ricci all weighing in with 14 points.

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France came into the match against the eight-time World League winners in buoyant spirits after having already clinched their place in the Final Six following a six-match winning run, while Italy desperately needed victory to keep their hopes of progressing alive after losing their last five matches.

France were out of the blocks quickly in the opening set as they won five straight points against despondent-looking opposition, but after coach Gianlorenzo Blengini ordered a time-out at 5-0 down, Italy put together some fluid attacking points as they hauled themselves back in the set. French profligacy allowed the 2016 Olympic silver medallists back in the match, and they found themselves 19-18 in front. But Les Bleus responded to reel off seven of the next eight points to take the opening set 25-20. The French extending their record of having taken at least one set in their last 58 World League matches.

But Italy – who had lost their last six World League meetings against France – responded magnificently in the second set, showing all the hallmarks that took them to the gold-medal match in Rio last year. They raced into a 3-1 lead with some potent serving, but in a topsy-survy set, the lead changed hands several times. European champions France held an 18-16 lead, but the Italians showed tremendous resilience to take nine of the next 12 points to seal the set 25-21.

Into the third and after weathering an early Gallic storm, Italy were looking the more dangerous side. They forged their way into a three-point lead (11-8) only for France to mount a response once again. Les Bleus went 16-14 ahead after the combined scoring efforts of Boyer and Rossard. But, far from overawed, Blengini’s men came roaring back to conjure a set point. Some aggressive French serving had Laurent Tillie’s men back on level terms before a set point came their way. And the normally reliable Luca Vettori sent an attempted spike well wide to hand France the set (26-24) and a two-sets-to-one advantage.

The fourth set witnessed an Italian renaissance after they introduced top scorer Giulio Sabbi. After a nip-and-tuck opening to the set, the Italians burst clear with Ricci particularly prominent at the net. Italy, who lost to France in last year’s bronze-medal match, sailed into a 12-6 lead and France struggled to bridge that six-point deficit. Sabbi, who’d notched 60 points in the competition prior to this match, landed another four as Blengini’s sharp-shooters served out the set with ease (25-20) to force a decider. France had dropped just four sets in six matches en route to this match, but that tally was now up to six.

And Italy produced an almighty turnaround in a fifth set that looked to be heading France’s way as they came from 8-5 down to record a stunning triumph. Rossard’s brilliant display was tarnished as he thundered a spike attempt long on Italy’s second match point to prompt prolonged Italian celebrations.

Italy’s victory means they have a 2 & 5 record and have given themselves a chance of qualification to the latter stages, while France, who are now on 6 & 1, will hope to get back to winning ways against Canada on Saturday.

Matches on Saturday:

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