FIVB - Volleyball World Grand Prix

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China win World Grand Prix thriller against Italy in five sets


China's Xu Yunli in action against Italy on Thursday

 Sapporo, Japan, August 29, 2013 – China fought a tough battle with Italy and prevailed 3-2 (28-30, 25-22, 26-28, 25-13, 15-10) in the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center on Thursday.

China improved to 2-0 while Italy fell to 0-2.

China were led by Hui Ruoqi with 19 points. Six Chinese players reached double figures. The Italians’ top scorer was Valentina Diouf with 26 points.

Italy had the advantage in blocking points, 10-9, while China prevailed in serving 8-5.

China looked nervous at the start of the match and coach Lang Ping called her players off court with the score at 0-4. But they continued to make errors and struggled to get into the game. Italy were five points ahead at the first technical timeout and six points ahead at 11-5 after another Chinese error. But then they started defending better and that helped them attack better. A good spike by Zhang Lei drew China level at 14-14 and then it was a battle with neither team giving ground. China had two-point leads at 18-16 and 19-17 but couldn’t capitalise on their advantage. Italy saved five setpoints, the fifth on a good block by Carolina Costagrande on Hui Ruoqi. A nicely placed shot down the left line by Costagrande brought the Italians their first setpoint and a Chinese error at the net put Italy 1-0 up.

It was tight again at the start of the second set but China pulled away from 7-7 to 13-8 with Yang Junjing landing some good shots and also coming up with a great block on the 202-cm Valentina Diouf. Wang Yimei added some typical heavy hits as China took a five-point lead at the second technical timeout. Martina Guiggi did her best to keep Italy alive with some strong kills and they pulled to within a point at 23-22, but a nice smash by lefty Zeng Chunlei earned China two setpoints. Xu Yunli then made a sweet block on Costagrande at the centre of the net to even the set scores at 1-1. 

Italian errors and an ace by Zeng allowed China to move into a 6-3 lead in the third set but Italy fought back to level the scores at 7-7. Wang knocked Italian libero Alessia Gennari over with a thunderbolt to make the score 9-7 and after a response from Indre Sorokaite China got a nice tipover from Hui, a rocket from Zeng and an ace from Shen Jingsi to go four points up. Zeng added a smash and a lovely lob before Italy fought back to level at 15-15 on an ace by Diouf. China earned two setpoints on a spike by Wang but sloppy reception allowed Italy to level at 24-24. Italy saved another setpoint before earning one of their own, which was saved by a super cross-court shot from Yang Junjing. Sorokaite brought Italy’s second setpoint and poor reception by China – not the first time – set up Diouf for the winner and a 2-1 Italian lead.

China brought in 18-year-old Zhu Ting for the fourth set and she warmed up with a cracking blast in a tight opening session. Good serving – including an ace – from the classy Zeng helped China ease into a four-point lead at 9-5 as they started to rediscover their rhythm. Three straight kills from Zhu – and some decent defence – put China 16-9 up at the second TTO. More good work from Zhu and Hui saw China expand their lead to 10 points at 23-13. Zeng sent a bomb through the Italian defence to earn setpoint and a blocked shot took the match to a tiebreaker.

It was tight again in the fifth set with Diouf laying down smashes and Zhu replying with a block and two good hits that put China up by two points at the turnaround. A long hit by Costagrande expanded that to three and a super block by Zhu on Diouf gave China a four-point cushion at 11-7. Matchpoint came at 14-8 when Italy failed to return a serve by Shen Jingsi and Zeng finished the match with a shot down the middle. 

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