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Italy plays masterpiece game to edge Poland

Italien-top7Vienna, Austria, September 17, 2011. Italy qualified this afternoon for the final act of the EuroVolley 2011 in Vienna with a majestic show of strength that 2009 champion Poland could not cope with. Italy cruised past with a speedy 3:0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-20) after playing a marvelous game, literally demolishing Poland’s reception from the serving line and dominating also at the net with the attacks of left-handed Michal Lasko and some terrific blocks of 36-year old Luigi Mastrangelo. The rejuvenated group mentored by head coach Mauro Berruto is back to the final game of the European Championship some six years after the home triumph in Rome and will be waiting for the winner of the second classy semifinal starring Serbia and Russia to go for the crown on Sunday at 6 pm.

Italy and Poland have been developing a long-lasting rivalry with the last couple of matches played this past summer ending up in favor of the guys mentored by Mauro Berruto but with a spot for the final of the EuroVolley 2011 being at stake these sides were re-starting this afternoon from “tabula rasa”. Andrea Giani – one of the stars from Italy’s golden era – recently started cooperating with the team as second assistant coach and questioned about the possible outcome of the match, he also agreed that the past results were not going to count at all as emotions and pressure were certainly going to have an influence on the game held at the splendid “Wiener Stadthalle”.   Italy caught a good start (4:2) but Poland clawed back to quickly draw level at 4; as they embarked on a quest to get back to their stellar standards from the ‘90s, the Italians had traveled to the venues of the EuroVolley 2011 with a very rejuvenated roster, including three guys – Travica, Lasko and Zaytsev – who do not have Italian roots but whose Volleyball career has unfolded almost entirely in the boot-shaped peninsula.   Poland got to the front for the first time by the first technical time-out (7:8) supported by a few thousands of fans – as usual well equipped with their flags or red and white gadgets – but powered by veteran Luigi Mastrangelo, Italy got back control of the operations for what was definitely going to be a very tight game. Italy enjoyed a very narrow margin (16:14) as the game re-started after the second technical time-out. With Mastrangelo and Lasko – this was certainly a very special match for this guy as he was born in Wroclaw before moving to Italy – dictating the tempo, Italy approached the final rush of the set with a small cushion of 2 points (22:20) and Poland’s head coach Anastasi – who had been mentoring Italy up to last year’s Worlds – briefly stopped the game to get his guys together and attempt a comeback. Italy got closer to the finish line via a serving error of Jakub Jarosz (23:21) before captain Cristian Savani called for three set balls with a terrific ace. The first opportunity for Italy was averted by Poland and coach Berruto also took a short break to cool his players down but they did not have to work too hard to pocket the provisional 1:0 as Michal Kubiak helped out with another serving error.       

Although they were missing three of their best players – Wlazly, Zagumny and Swiderski – the 2009 European champions were certainly not going to bury their hatchet that quickly and with Piotr Gruszka far from his best shape, much responsibility was given to Bartosz Kurek, the wing spiker that some years ago had debuted with the national team as a sixteen-year old young boy. However, Poland lacked consistency and Italy opened a gap quite early in the second set (10:6) always well commanded by setter Dragan Travica and the impressively athletic Cristian Savani. As Italy’s efficiency in defense dropped down Poland cut the gap (12:10), coach Berruto replaced Zaytsev with Simone Parodi but a spike of Michal Lasko that fell well off the court contributed the -1 on the scoreboard. To the delight of their many fans, the heirs from the players that dominated the international arena back in the ‘70s leveled at 13 all. Savani re-started the Italian march with an ace for the 17:15 but Parodi – back after nursing a serious injury – sent it too wide thereby missing what would have been a well needed 3-point lead. Italy’s defense was nevertheless clipping again very impressive ratios of efficiency while left-handed Lasko was literally bombing his opponents with terrific diagonal spikes (22:18). Another late comeback of Poland was avoided by the Italians whose team work was really impressive, thereby demonstrating that coach Berruto has totally re-shaped a group that last year had disappointed by failing to medal at the home World Champs in Rome (25-21).

By this time it was already an “all-or-nothing” game for Poland and Kurek assumed the role of the real leader of the team coached by Anastasi; he even aced for the provisional 9:6 but it was still an uphill climb for the 2009 European champions as Italy immediately responded with a winning serve of Savani. Although Poland had set the tempo for the opening of the set, Italy’s swift reaction was quickly propelled by a combination of great serves, terrific blocks and spectacular attacks, primarily scored by Lasko. By the second mandatory stop Italy had already restored its rule (16:14) and the Italian fiesta was completed by a clear 3:0 victory, with the “Azzurri” back in the final game of the Champs six years after their home triumph in Rome. 

Lasko top scored for Italy with 17 points while Savani finished with 16, including 3 aces.