|Can Italy go one place better?
That is the big question many Italian fans will be
asking following last year's outstanding campaign
when Italy claimed their best ever finish in the
World Grand Prix - a silver medal. This year the
"Azurre" have their
sights fixed on the next step of the podium and a
gold medal, however it will be a tough ask
considering their new look lineup.
Missing from the Olympic Games are captain Manuela
Leggeri, spiking superstar Elisa Togut, their
courageous 162cm libero Paola Cardullo and Simona
Ranieri. But with Jenny Barazza, Nadia Centoni,
Simona Gioli, Francesca Piccinini and Eleonora Lo
Bianco still in the ranks, coach Marco Bonitta has a
decent structure to build upon in what looks like a
new era for Italian women's Volleyball.
Up until 2004,
Italian women's Volleyball did not have fond
memories of the World Grand Prix, having only
competed six times with a best finish of fourth.
But following their incredible 2002 World
Championship triumph things have been on the improve
despite being a little inconsistent. The 2003 World
Grand Prix saw the "Azurre" finish fifth, the same
year they were hosts of the final round while last
year brought the silver medal performance - again on
home soil - and a fifth place finish at the Olympic
Following their triumph at the 2002 World
Championship, big things were expected from this
entertaining side however it took longer than hoped
for to rediscover that amazing form, a fact that was
highlighted by the team ending the 2003 European
Championships in Turkey in a lowly sixth position. A
jump to fourth at the World Cup in Japan was
considered an improvement on the road to recovery
yet they still had to overcome an awkward assignment to qualify
for the Athens Olympics when they finished fourth at a World Olympic
Qualification tournament in Japan in May, behind Japan, Korea and Russia,
in which was effectively the final Olympic ticket on
offer in their third attempt at trying.
Yet the Italians, ranked fourth in the world, do
have many qualities and none better than passion, drive and a
sure-fire spirit which
compliments this squad.
Volleyball is the most practiced women's sport in
Italy and has received the backing of the national
federation with over 100,000 registered players but
it is only now that Italian women's Volleyball is
finally seeing the hard work bear fruit.
Italy will host a preliminary round of the World Grand
Prix in 2005, which will once again have many fans
in Reggio Calabria returning to see more of their
superstars in action.
Overall Standings for Italy
Word Grand Prix Played
Total Matches played
After an inaugural World Championship title in 2002, Italian women's Volleyball coach Marco Bonitta is still waiting to taste more success as part of his four-year plan. In 2003, the 40-year-old Bonitta turned down a mountain of overseas offers to sign a four-year extension to his two-year Italian coaching contract and after leading the Italian women's team to their best international performance at the World Championships he is looking to make further space in the trophy cabinet.
However, it has been tough for Bonitta and his charges carrying the title of world champions but after last year's World Grand Prix performance, where they collected the silver medal on their own home soil, things were looking up.
This year's competition however, doesn't promise to bring the same reward with some key players missing and Bonitta will have to be at his astute best to make sure Italy improve upon their fifth place finish at the Athens Olympics. If anyone can rise to the challenge it is him.