LIVE Scorebox
Match Info
Best players

FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2006
Match Description
Blue shines at Rainbow Hall

Italy's Eleonora Lo Bianco sets up Sara Anzanello for a winning spike
Nagoya, Japan, November 12, 2006: There was only one colour shining at the Rainbow Hall on Sunday night -- and it was the sparkling Azzurre blue of Italy.
 The defending world champions booked their place in the semi-finals of the 2006 FIVB World Championships with a straight-sets victory over Japan in the last match of Pool E.
 "Le Azzurre" showed all their quality and experience to hold off Japan 25-17, 28-26, 25-23 and qualify for the last four with Serbia and Montenegro from Pool E and with Brazil and Russia from Pool F.
 Italy improved their second-round win-loss record to 6-1 and dropped Japan to 4-3, leaving the host nation to play in the classification matches in Osaka. Italy did not lose a set in their four second-round matches.
 World No. 4 Italy jumped out to a three-point lead at the first TTO, thanks to some good work out wide by captain Simona Rinieri and Elisa Togut and at the net from Sara Anzanello and Paola Paggi.
 But Japan, ranked seventh in the world by the FIVB, struck with some well-worked moves and crisp spikes, too, notably from Miyuki Takahashi, Sachiko Sugiyama at the net and Shuka Oyama.
 The early stages promised a contest full of high-quality volleyball, both from a technical and tactical aspect, as the teams traded lusty blows and kept mistakes to a minimum.
 While Takahashi is well known to the Italian players due to her career with Vicenza, Oyama -- better known by her Chinese name Wang Jiao -- is still something of an unknown quantity at this level, and her raw, unpredictable talent reaped early rewards as she jumped and attacked with all her might.
 Captain Rinieri was in inspirational form, though, and she powered the Azzurre towards the second technical break 16-11.
 At 18-13, Japan needed a second TO as the Italians began to hit their stride, and the home team responded through Erika Araki and Takahashi.
 But two Togut missiles from the back court and a Paggi block on Takahashi underlined Italy's quality, and with more blocks on Oyama they won the first set comfortably 25-17.
 Italy maintained this pressure in the second set. Kimura ducked under a floating Paggi serve and saw the ball bounce in, a Rinieri spike drifted between two defenders, and a crunching Anzanello block on Takahashi had Japan taking cover at 6-3 down.
 Italy's winners were coming thick and fast. Rinieri pushed one over, Piccinini sent the ball fizzing through the defence and crashing into the boards from the left, and Togut repeated the treatment from the other side shortly after.
 Leading 14-12, Italy had to replace the injured Paggi with Martina Guiggi, and reached the second TTO ahead 16-13.
 Sugiyama was working hard to keep Japan in touch, and became involved in a net duel with Rinieri on Italy's left flank. Japan called a TO when falling behind 19-14, and Araki took up the attack on the right followed by Kimura on the left.
 The gap closed to three points at 21-18, forcing an Italy TO, but the Azzurre mistakes continued and Japan pulled level 22-22 with a Kimura smash on the left. When another Kimura attack was blocked out, Japan led 23-22 and Italy needed another TO.
 Takahashi returned for Japan to bring up set point at 24-23, but Japan could not convert this one or a second at 26-25, and Italy took the set 28-26 with a block on Oyama on their second attempt.
 In the third set, Italy led 8-5 at the first TTO, but Oyama brought Japan back and thought their luck must have changed when her jump serve thudded into the net cord and bobbled over on to the Italian side to reduce the deficit to one, 8-7.
 But every time Japan threatened, Italy responded like world champions, be it through Togut, Piccinini, Rinieri or Guiggi capitalising on the setting of Eleonora Lo Bianco.
 Japan would not give up one ball, though, and some spectacular defence made sure Italy would have to work for every point down the stretch. Araki blocked Piccinini to move Japan to within one at 17-16 and Kimura pulled them level with a typically effortless leap and spike, forcing an Italy TO.
 Rinieri was unstoppable on the night, and for all Japan's flying defence, they could not prevent Italy taking the third set 25-23 and the match 3-0.