Italy through to semifinals with Argentina victory
Italy were hot favourites going into the game having won nine of the previous 14 World League matches against Argentina although Argentina did have history, having won the last World League encounter at the 2011 Finals.
But this counted for very little as the 2013 World League’s top scorer Ivan Zaytsev and Co went to work quickly.
Great float serving from Emanuele Birarelli really put Argentina under pressure. With Birarelli at the service line, Italy went from 6-3 up to 11-3 effectively sealing the first set there and then. It was enough for Argentina’s star setter and captain Luciano De Cecco who was subbed out, for what looked like a shoulder injury. Argentina pulled back to 18-14 after Zaytsev served long but the 24-year-old finished off the set with a customary spike, his sixth of the first set, 25th of the Finals and 240th in this year’s World League.
Argentina led for the first time in the match when Rodrigo Quiroga blocked Thomas Beretta at 2-1 in the second set and thanks to an Ivan Castellani spike opened that lead to 3-1. The crowd were really getting behind the hosts by now and a superb running dig from Nicolas Uriarte, which set Quiroga up to spike midcourt saw them erupt again. Italy fought back to 10-10 from which point both teams were hard to separate. A superb Quiroga receive and spike in the same play gave Argentina the lead at 21-20 before Quiroga stepped up to the service line. His floaters caused Italy all kinds of trouble. Zaytsev and libero Andrea Giovi were both called for held ball when trying to receive before a tip from Sebastian Sole kept Argentina’s semifinal hopes alive.
Italy had the better of the start of the third set with that man Birarelli at the service line again but it wasn’t as profitable as the first set. Italy led 5-3 before Argentina fought back with three successive points to lead themselves at 6-5. However that would be the last time they would lead in the set. Italy overturned a line call thanks to the Challenge System before the introduction of libero Salvatore Rossini to replace Giovi tightened up Italy’s passing. The eight-time World League winners marched on to a 12-8 and 16-11 lead heralding the return of De Cecco into the Argentine lineup. But his presence was fleeting. Cristian Savani served his second ace before Pablo Crer spiked out to give Italy the set 25-17 and confirm their spot in the semifinals.
The atmosphere had, not surprisingly, dropped somewhat with the crowd knowing that their beloved Argentina had no chance to advance in the World League Finals but this didn’t stop the home side starting the fourth set well at 4-1. Despite Beretta and Simone Parodi being rested, once again Italy fought back – setter Dragan Travica a real terrier around the court helping Italy go 9-7 ahead. Quiroga tied the match up at 9-9 with a wonderful floating serve and an ace before 22-year-old Matteo Piano stepped up to the service line with Italy up 13-11 and gave Argentina all manner of problems. He walked away with the Azzurri leading 17-11. Argentina had a brief fightback thanks to Crer blocking so well at 22-21 but skipper Savani rallied his troops before Piano had the last word with his fifth point of the match.