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For many Italian Volleyball fans, the 2005 World League will hopefully signal a new beginning for their national side.

The Azzurri have become the perennial bridesmaids to world number one Brazil in recent years, having finished runner's up to the South Americans at the 2004 Olympic Games, last year's World League, which was held in Rome, and the 2003 World Cup.

After such an illustrious tradition in men's Volleyball, particularly in the World League, Italy are hoping to return to the top of the podium, a position they had become accustomed to, particularly in the 1990's.

Italy is not only one of Volleyball's superpowers, it is the best men's team of the 20th century, according to the FIVB selection and certainly, with its spectacular history of eight World League titles, three seconds, two thirds and two fourth places, is the singularly most successful team in World League history.

Although the national team had a good start in international competitions, finishing third at the European Championship in 1948 and eighth at the first World Championship in 1949, the country then had to wait for almost another 40 years for a significant success. The first breakthrough came in 1978 at the World Championships held in Rome where the Italians won the silver medal, but the best was yet to come.

Under the firm hand of head coach Julio Velasco of Argentina, Italy clearly dominated the sport in the 1990s, triumphing at the World Championship in 1990 in Brazil, in 1994 in Greece and again, under new coach, Brazilian Bebeto in Japan, 1998. No other team can match such a record in the history of this sport. During this splendid era Italy also captured the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the bronze in Sydney 2000 under coach Andrea Anastasi. Also from 1989 Italy won the European Championship four times, claimed the World Cup in 1995 and the Grand Champions Cup in 1993. However, following their fourth place finish in the World League two years ago and the disappointing fifth at the World Championship, a new coach Gianpaolo Montali, was appointed to lead the Azzurri back to the former glory.

Montali has brought success back to Italy with a European Championship title in 2003 but trophies on the big international stage still prove to be elusive. The 2005 World League will prove to be an important litmus test, particularly considering when Montaliís squad as undergone a makeover. Some regular stars such as Alessandro Fei, Matej Cernic and Luigi Mastrangelo are back while Marco Meoni returns after a year out but more importantly, big names such as the experienced Andrea Giani, Samuele Papi, who is on a yearís sabbatical, Andrea Sartoretti and Damiano Pippi are all missing.

Currently second on the FIVB World ranking list, Italy will clash with Cuba, Bulgaria and France in Pool B of the 2005 World League in what will be a fascinating contest to see who progresses through to the final round in Serbia and Montenegro.

Overall Standings for Italy
World League Played Total Matches played Win Lost % Wins
14 239 185 54 77.4