Vettori leads Italy to bronze on Finals debut
And the youngest player in the Italian side at 22, Luca Vettori was the star, equalling the World League Finals match-high of 29 points as he made his full 2013 World League Finals starting debut in place for captain Cristian Savani.
The win sees Italy, the second-equal most successful team in the World League, claim their third bronze medal, first medal since 2004 and 14th in total in 23 editions, equal with Russia who will win their 14th medal in the final against Brazil, and three behind Brazil, who will have 17 to their name.
It is the fifth time and second year in a row Bulgaria have finished fourth in the competition, their best ever result.
Italy had the recent metal over Bulgaria having won two on the bounce, including Thursday’s pool play match, and they started the better by winning the first set. Neither team really wanted it as the first three serves were all out but finally Bulgaria got a head of steam with Svetoslav Gotsev succeeding with successive spikes to open a 5-3 lead. But it was short lived. With Vettori proving an able replacement for the injured Savani, the Azzurri took the initiative at 8-7. It soon opened to 14-11 before Bulgaria clawed their way back themselves. Captain Todor Aleksiev started where he left off in Saturday’s semis with some destructive spiking, giving Bulgaria the lead at 19-18. Bulgaria wasn’t about to give it up this time as Zaytsev’s block into the antenna gave the world No. 8 the first set.
Italy were stunned into action in the second set. The 1.99m Vettori, who has a total of 16 caps after making his debut in 2012, was showing maturity beyond his years with his attacking game in the opposite position while Zaytsev continued to contribute the best way he knows how, with customary cross court spikes to give Italy an 8-5 lead. Emanuele Birarelli’s block made it 18-13 before Bulgaria made a comeback thanks to Aleksiev persistence at the net. They closed the score to 20-18 before Italy pulled away to clinch the second set 25-21.
One of the key goals for Italy prior to the match was to keep Bulgaria’s major attacking weapon Tsvetan Solokov quiet, and while he had improved his spiking average on his semifinal performance to 43 per cent, he still wasn’t clicking through the gears as normal due to Italy’s impressive reception game. Italy managed to keep Sokolov relatively quiet whilst at the same time keeping pace on the scoreboard. At 19-17 they finally opened a two point advantage before Sokolov effectively handed Italy the set. A spike long and then Simone Parodi’s block on the tournament’s top scorer gave Italy a 23-20 lead before Thomas Beratta finished off the set with more impressive defence at the net. To no one’s surprise, Sokolov was subbed at this point with 14 points to his name.
By this stage Italy sniffed their third 3-1 victory in a row against Bulgaria, but last year’s World League fourth-placed team were having none of it. Sokolov’s replacement Danail Milushev really stepped up to the plate planting a couple of sublime spikes as Bulgaria opened a 7-5 lead before an outstanding reception from libero Todor Aleksiev, which was flicked on by Aleksiev into the unattended Italian court showed that fortune was on their side. Victor Yosifov’s block maintained the lead at 20-17 before the Intercontinental Round Pool A runner’s up stretched the lead to 23-17. Svetoslav Gotsev’s block on Vettori and Parodi’s serve long finished the set 25-21.
For the first time in eight matches since the 2006 World Championships, Italy and Bulgaria went to five sets. On that occasion Bulgaria won 15-8 but Italy was having none of the that. Vettori scored two outstanding blows for his 26th and 27th points on the match to give Italy a 5-2 lead before he was at it again and Italy were ahead 10-5. Bulgaria were at sea by this stage resigned to the fact that they would record another fourth place finish before a Dragan Travica ace and Milushev’s spike long started the Italian celebrations of their second successive bronze medal in international competitions with Vettori equalling the highest score in the World League Finals 2013 with 29 points.