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European Volleyball ChampionsItalian Men and Women claim gold at EuroVolley 2021
By Anthony Parente
After disappointing outcomes by both the Italian men and women at the Tokyo Olympics it was fair to assume that neither team going into the competition were favored to win. That did not stop either team and perhaps they used that as motivation to prove to themselves and the European community that Italy is a premier volleyball country.
The Women's EuroVolley Championships started with group play on August 18th with 24 national teams divided into four groups of six. Each group playing their games in one of the four host countries Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. Italy was in group C with Belarus, Croatia (host country), Hungary, Slovakia and Switzerland. Coach Davide Mazzanti, had his team focused and ready for the competition. Each match is a best of 5 sets. Italy finished group play undefeated and only losing 1 set going 15 – 1. The top four teams from each group moved on to the Round of 16. Italy defeated Belgium (3 – 1) then Russia (3 – 0) and finally the Netherlands (3 – 1) to make it to the finals against host Serbia who was favored to win their third straight EuroVolley Championship.
The finals was going to be a true test for the Italian Women who lost to Serbia (3 – 0) at the Tokyo Olympics. To make it even more difficult they would have to play Serbia at Štark Arena in Belgrade. The first set was highly contested as play went back and forth. The Italians were able to stave off one set point but eventually lost to Serbia 26 – 24 to go down 1 set to 0. This did not discourage the Italians and as play continued you could see that the momentum started to shift towards their side and they were able to take set two 25 – 22. Perhaps the pressure of playing in their home country and trying to win a third straight EuroVolley Championship was too much for Serbia as the Italians kept up the pressure and easily won set three 25 – 19 before finishing the match with a dominating 25 – 11 set four to win their third Women's EuroVolley Championship and first since 2009.
The Italians were clicking on all cylinders and relied on opposite Paola Egonu who finished with a game high 29 points (25 kills and 4 aces) and was named the MVP of the competition. Setter Alessia Orro, middle blocker Anna Danesi, libero Monica De Gennaro, outside hitters Miriam Sylla and Elena Pietrini were all selected to the All Star Team that was voted on by the fans.
With a disappointing showing by the men's team in the Olympics coach Ferdinando De Giorgi decided to go with a younger lineup. No one gave them a chance to earn a medal let alone win the tournament. Perhaps this fueled the Young Guns of the Italian team as the finished first in Group B going 5 – 0. Winning 15 sets while only losing two. The true test for the Italians was going to be how they would fair once they reached the Round of 16. Would their youth and inexperience finally be exposed or would they be able to handle the pressure playing against more experienced opponents.
Their youth did not crack under the pressure and defeated Latvia (3 – 0) then Germany (3 – 0) and finally Serbia (3 – 1) to reach the finals against Slovenia. Going into the match against the Italians they were favored to finally break through and win their first championship. The two teams did not disappoint and gave the sold out Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland a 5-set thriller.
Slovenia started out strong and eventually took the first set 25 – 22. This was the first time during the entire competition that Italy did not win the first set. Was this the adversity that would cause the Young Guns to show their inexperience and eventually falter or would they be able to battle back and let Slovenia know this was not going to be an easy match to win. In set two the Italians limited the amount of errors from set one and controlled the set evening the match at one set apiece with a 25 – 20 win. In set three Slovenia made the necessary adjustments and once again the Italians found themselves down a set after losing 25 – 20. It was now or never for the Italians. Their backs were against the wall as they needed to win the next two sets or go home with a silver medal. They were able to maintain their composure and send the match to a fifth set with a 25 – 20 win. The championship came down to the final set, which is played to 15. Slovenia started out with a quick 3 – 0 lead, but the Young Guns persevered winning 15 – 11 and claiming their seventh title and first since 2005. Italian captain and setter Simone Giannelli was named the MVP of the tournament.
Volleyball is an incredible sport to watch. If you never had an opportunity to watch a game take the time to do so. The play especially at the higher levels are very competitive and you will be impressed at the athleticism and competitiveness that these players have.
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