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FIVB World Grand Prix 2006
Match Description
Russia fight back to deny hosts

Russia's Ekaterina Gamova using her devastating 3.17m spike

 Reggio Calabria, Italy, September 9, 2006: Russia fought back from two sets down to beat Italy 3-2 and set up a World Grand Prix final with Brazil on Sunday.
 After losing the first two sets 25-21, 25-23, the Big Red Machine rumbled through the next three, 25-23, 25-15, 15-10 to end Italy's hopes of a first Grand Prix title.
 Italy must now play Cuba for the bronze medal in a re-match of their bad-tempered affair in the preliminary pool.
 Italy took the first set 25-21 after controlling the opening frame from the mid-point, thanks to a run of six straight points from 9-9 to 15-9.
 During this period, Russia called a TO and also changed their setter, Marina Sheshenina for Marina Akulova, before Lioubov Shashkova ended the barren spell with a right-wing winner.
 Paola Paggi was enjoying another fruitful evening around the net, and an excellent block by Sara Anzanello brought about the substitution of Russia's captain, Natalia Safronova, as Italy led by six at 20-14.
 Although Ekaterina Gamova and Olga Zhitova brought Russia closer, the latter with two sizzling spikes across court from the right, a block by Elisa Togut on Gamova gave Italy the momentum to close out the set.
 Togut brought up set point at 24-19 with a trademark "jump and thump" on the right, and the set ended tamely when Maria Borodakova served into the net.
 The Italians were in no mood to release their grip on the game in the second set, and led 8-3 and 16-7 at the two technical breaks.
 Italy's blocking was preventing Russia finding an escape route through the usual channels, and the alert ground defence of the team in general was keeping Russia at a safe distance.
 Natalia Kulikova and Yulia Merkulova were working hard at the net against the Italian attack, and when Russia closed the gap to three points, 18-15, the home team called for a break.
 The Azzurre supporters began to make their presence felt, whistling and jeering the Russian servers as the Red Machine drew closer, and eventually level at 20-20.
 A couple of spiking errors on crucial points proved costly for Russia, though. Italy, with some fearless attacks from captain Simona Rinieri-Dennis, seized the initiative, and the noise level rose to fever pitch as the fans in the Palacalafiore stamped their feet on every Italian serve. Rinieri-Dennis brought up two set points at 24-22, and the set was over 25-23 when Safronova spiked wide from a tight angle.
 Unlike China the previous evening, the Russians were not ready to capitulate and fought back in the third with stirring resolve. Merkulova was particularly impressive, as was the acrobatic defence of libero Svetlana Kryuchkova.
 A service ace from Shashkova helped Russia reach the second technical break with a six-point cushion, and a flashing winner from the same player on the left nudged her team ahead 20-14. Three straight Azzurre points, the latter a block from Anzanello, gave Italy fresh heart and forced a Russian TO.
 A pumped-up Paggi brought the Azzurre right back into it, 22-22, but a wild spike from Togut gave Russia two set points at 24-22. Paggi saved one, but Gamova's right-wing thunderbolt was too powerful and the third set was over 25-23.
 Russia built on winning the third set by establishing an early lead in the fourth, 8-3 at the first TTO and 16-7 at the second.
 The red block was now on top, forcing Italy to make regular substitutions to try and regain the momentum they had lost. But anything Italy could do, Gamova could do better, and the points piled up as the fourth set became one-way traffic. Trailing 20-8, a desperate Italy called their second TO, but Russia's lead was too big and they took the fourth set 25-15 to set up the first tie-break of the final round.
 The crowd had been silenced by Russia's comeback, but were now back into it for the decider. Togut and Piccinini made nervous mistakes, but Paggi carried Italy forward. A Gamova ace gave Russia a 7-3 lead, and the visitors turned around 8-5 ahead.
 Two attack errors from Rinieri-Dennis left Italy five behind, but brilliant defence and an inspired Valentina Fiorin brought Italy to within two at 11-9. Gamova brought up match point at 14-10, and Fiorin spiked into the net to end the match.