London 2012


Italy claim classification match with Bulgaria to seize their fifth Olympic medal

Italy captain Cristian Savani was the real man of the match on Sunday as he scored 23 points, including 7 aces, to help his team claim bronze at the 2012 London Olympics

London, Great Britain, August 12, 2012 – Similarly to what had happened in the previous editions of the Olympic Games, Italy could not fulfil their dream of gold in London but finally were still happy to claim their fifth Olympic medal after edging Bulgaria 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-22, and 25-20) in the classification match that opened the program of the last day of action at Earls Court.

This honour is to be added to two silver medals (1996 and 2004) and bronze (1984 and 2000) already included in Italy’s showcase and confirms that the group put together by coach Mauro Berruto is solid and has great potential for the future.

As for Bulgaria, the real surprise of the Olympic tournament probably ran out of fuel after a few demanding matches and eventually could not play their best, settling for fourth and missing out on the Olympic podium for the seventh time in eight editions.

Ivan Zaytsev could successfully start his chase to emulate dad Vyacheslav – a gold medallist back in 1980 but for the Soviet Union – by taking a medal in his first Olympic appearance. As for the game in itself, Italy were anchored by a stellar performance of their captain Cristian Savani who amassed a haul of 23 points including seven aces to leave his mark on the match. The result totally reversed the 3-0 defeat Italy had suffered to Bulgaria in the preliminary round, testifying to the gradual improvement that was achieved by the “Azzurri” throughout the Olympic tournament.

The bronze medal match of the men’s tournament was a remake of the game claimed by Bulgaria in straight sets during pool play some ten days ago, but this time much more was at stake in the last round of action at Earls Court. The real surprise of the Olympic tournament, Bulgaria, were searching for their first medal since 1980 while Italy wanted to get redemption for their defeat in the semis where the guys coached by Mauro Berruto were literally routed by Brazil. The side captained by Cristian Savani caught a good start scoring mainly via their middle blockers, with Alessandro Fei playing once again in this position, something his fans have got used to since his return to the national team after a short break following the 2010 World Champs. Savani aced for the 8-4 that called for the first mandatory stop; as the stands of the Olympic venue were gradually filled up to almost full capacity, Italy stretched their lead to 16-9 as they had embarked on a mission to turn the odds, as going into this game they had lost three out of their four matches with Bulgaria played on the Olympic arena. The men in blue jerseys could take full advantage of the always good jump serve provided by Fei, while Bulgaria opted for some changes – team captain Vladimir Nikolov replaced Tsvetan Sokolov – in an attempt to find their way back in the game (18-14). Savani – who holds the record for the fastest service at Earls Court with 127 km/h – aced once more for the 19-14 and Italy could wrap it up at 25-19 via a spike of their Polish-born opposite Michal Lasko.

The score remained tight in the early phases of the second but Bulgaria was probably feeling the fatigue resulting from a long and physically demanding tournament, lacking the intensity that had turned into their trademark since they had squared off for the first time at Earls Court two weeks ago by playing the hosts and home heroes of Team GB. However, they finally got to the front (8-5) and as Italy was losing composure, Bulgaria could stretch their lead up to four points (11-7). However, a deficit of consistency paved the way for Italy’s comeback, sealed by a block that drew the score to 13 all. Bulgaria broke away again (18-15) but Italy stormed back once more (18-18) in what wasn’t a top quality match as fatigue mixed with tension somehow prevented the players on court from displaying their potential.
The addition of outside hitter Simone Parodi helped Italy raise the bar up to the next level by the moment the final rush of the set was approaching: Viktor Yosifov served long for the 23-22 in favour of the “Azzurri” but after a couple of spectacular defences, Michal Lasko could not block the next Bulgarian spike and as he did not control the ball in the next rally, Bulgaria got a first set ball, and a net violation sealed the 25-23 and the provisional 1-1.

Bulgaria started out very strong in set 3 (4-0) but after an early time-out asked by Berruto, Italy clawed back to even the score; however, their opponents got the right rhythm especially with their middle blockers, with Viktor Yosifov being particularly effective, thereby moving to the front by four points (12-8). Bulgaria was cheered from the stands by their Head of State, Rosen Plevneliev, as Italy struggled to play with the necessary consistency, alternating good actions and silly errors to help their opponents keep control of the operations. Bulgaria was nevertheless not any better, and as Todor Aleksiev spiked into the net, Italy reduced the gap to a minimum to eventually draw level via a double block on Vladimir Nikolov (14 all). 
Italy eventually found back their best play to flip the score around (19-16) following up with an ace by Savani as the atmosphere was getting quite “hot” at Earls Court. Even the return of Tsvetan Sokolov – second best scorer of the tournament – could not stop Italy’s march with Savani literally taking his side by the hand, and finally, after a sloppy start, Italy could go for the 2-1 via another attack of their athletic captain (25-22).

Italy played with good intensity also in the opening of set 4 (5-3) but still not with the same quality they had displayed in their terrific 1/4 final match with USA. Sokolov was trying to keep alive Bulgaria’s hopes of an Olympic medal 32 years after the silver claimed in Moscow but Italy was in full swing (13-9), once more with Savani standing out from the serving line. The fans at Earls Court were still hoping for a tie-break to add the icing on the cake as the Bulgarians had stormed back to 16 all, but Savani turned into the real man of the match for Italy by responding to the threat posed by his opponents with a series of great actions that restored the Italian lead (20-17). He stamped his seventh ace (!) of the match for the 23-19 and it was finally time for an Italian “fiesta” only a few moments later as the much desired 25-20 was sealed on the scoreboard.

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