Osaka, Japan, November 6, 2007: European champions Italy had to work hard to beat regional rivals Serbia 3-2 in a rematch of their European Championship final on Tuesday.
Italy won 23-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-17, 15-7 to extend their World Cup win-loss record to 4-0, while dropping Serbia to 3-1.
Italy had beaten Serbia 3-0 in the European Championship final on September 30 to win the Euro crown for the first time, but 2006 World Championship bronze medallists Serbia took them all the way this time in a fluctuating encounter.
Serbia led 8-6 at the first TTO thanks to a four-point run from 1-0 down to 4-1, fuelled by the outstanding Molnar on attack and block. Nikolic showed her all-round skills with a brilliant dig and gentle pat over the block, while the Italians countered with sizzling spikes from Barazza at the net and Del Core out wide. A perfectly-placed Brakocevic drive into the corner took the Serbs into the first TTO with a two-point lead.
The Italians were struggling to find their groove, and making too many mistakes on serve and attack. Coach Barbolini called a TO down 14-12, but the gap had grown to three, 16-13 Serbia, at the second TTO.
As the Serbs attacked with speed and confidence, the Italians' defence faltered, particularly behind the block. It was an aspect they needed to address quickly.
Gioli won a net joust and Del Core served an ace to bring Italy level 17-17, but Le Azzurre continued to play catch-up as the set progressed.
Citakovic moved Serbia towards their target, and a Brakocevic serve struck the net cord and dropped over for 21-19. When Nikolic swooped majestically from the back court for 22-19, Italy took their second TO.
Molnar brought up three set points at 24-21 with another crashing spike from the left, but when they wasted the first two coach Terzic took off his team for a TO. On the restart, Barazza served tamely into the net to hand Serbia the opening frame 25-23. It was Italy's ninth error of the first set.
Having won the first set, the Serbs went to sleep at the start of the second, losing the first four points. After a Serb TO down 3-0, Italy returned and won another point with a sparkling Del Core spike after a Lo Bianco dig.
A Brakocevic block on Del Core got the Serbs moving, and the same player then scored with a rhythmic drive following another Nikolic dig in the back court.
The Italians led 8-6 at the first TTO, and with excellent blocking surged ahead 16-8 at the second technical break.
From 16-9, Italy went on a set-clinching five-point run to 21-9, including a spike-block double from both Barazza (on Molnar) and Piccinini (on Nikolic), and some outstanding work from libero Cardullo. Aguero powered Italy to the second set 25-14 for 1-1.
Serbia made sure they were not left behind in the third set, and Molnar blazed them into the first TTO with a slender lead, 8-7. The best point of the opening exchanges involved acrobatic defence from Nikolic and Brakocevic to deny Aguero, only for Lo Bianco to end the rally with a lightning flick.
Trailing 12-9, the Italians called a TO, but on the return they could not match the accuracy of the Serb attacks and went into the second TTO down 16-10.
Italy looked to Gioli to try and close the gap, but the Serbs were full of ideas and a looping overhead set from Ognjenovic was met with a thundering Brakocevic spike on the right side for 17-11.
When Italy finally put some points together to close to 22-16, Serbia took a TO to try and halt their momentum, and returned for Nikolic to score again down the middle. The Serb block did the rest, 25-16 for 2-1.
The spiking and blocking of Aguero took Italy into the first TTO of the fourth set with a one-point lead, 8-7, and the Serbs replied with some crisp winners at the net from Veljkovic and Citakovic.
Serbia took a TO down 11-8 but they could not close on Italy, who still held a three-point lead at the second technical TO, 16-13.
Gioli was cranking out the points around the net and Aguero was always a threat. Trailing 20-16, the Serbs took their second TO of the set, but returned to concede a weak service ace to Barazza. Their minds, it seemed, were already on the tiebreak.
Molnar spiked into the net to increase the frustration of Serbia, and Gioli pounced for another flashing winner, 23-17. The mistakes continued by Serbia and Italy wrapped it up 25-17 with a Del Core winner from the left, 2-2.
Serbia had no choice but to call a TO on going down 4-1 in the tiebreak, due to mistakes on attack and reception from Barazza's serve.
Gioli moved Italy forward and Cardullo's great defence kept the big Serb spikers at bay, enabling Italy to turn round 8-3 ahead.
Terzic made two changes on the restart, but then called a TO on losing the next point. At 9-3, it looked a lost cause for Serbia. Gioli blocked Nikolic when they went head to head in the centre, 10-3, and repeated the move out wide for 12-5.
Piccinini brought up match point at 14-7, and the same player finished it when the attempted block on her attack fell wide, 15-7.