Italy too good for Bulgaria
The match was expected to be a heavyweight battle between the two highest scorers in the Intercontinental Round Ivan Zaytsev, who had tallied 215 points for Italy, and Bulgaria’s Tsvetan Sokolov who had scored 209 and it proved exactly that. Zaytsev led Italy’s scoring with 19 points but Sokolov was a man on a mission, recording 27 which represented close to 30 percent of Bulgaria’s points.
Having topped their group in the Intercontinental Round, Italy continued in a similar vein in the first set. Immediately they were up 3-0 with Emanuele Birarelli at the service line. His serve out gave Bulgaria their first point and after Sokolov served out and Zaytsev spiked home to make it 5-1, it was left to Todor Skrimov to score Bulgaria’s first point at 5-2. That was enough of a lead for eight-time champions Italy to win the first set.
Much to everyone’s surprise was how Bulgaria quickly turned things around in the second set. Up 8-6 soon turned into 16-14 before Georgi Bratoev cooked up an ace. Four successive blocks from Sokolov and Svetoslav Gotsev gave Bulgaria the lead they craved at 23-15 before Skirmov spiked home to tie the match up.
The third set started with tempers seemingly fraying between Sokolov and Dragan Travica with both questioning a line call at 4-4 before Sokolov really got his game going. The battle between the two top scorers in the World League was impressive with Sokolov giving Bulgaria a 16-12 lead before Zaytsev hauled Italy back to tie at 20-20. A parade block and another Zaytsev spike and a block gave Italy set point at 24-21 before Solokov couldn’t control his serving radar.
The fourth set featured a similar pattern to the third set with Bulgaria and the outstanding Sokolov leading 18-16 only for Italy and Zaytsev to fight their way back. At 20-20 there were back-to-back challenges with each team successfully having calls overturned before a tip from Cristian Savani dropped into space with Bulgarians all looking at each other. That seemed to seal Bulgaria’s fate. From then it was catch up with Biralli serving up his third ace of the match and Savani spiking out off the block to seal the Italian victory.
It was the first time in four World League Finals that Italy has won its first match having failed at the first hurdle in 2006, 2010 and 2011.