Russia downs Italy despite incredible 31 points from Sabbi


Pau, France, June 11, 2017 – An amazing 31 points by Giulio Sabbi just wasn't enough to qualify Italy for the 2017 World League final round in Brazil as the Azzurri lost to Russia 3-2 (33-31, 23-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-10) in Sunday's action in Pau.

Iacopo Botto (23 points) and Sabbi (31) were on fire in the South of France as they powered through a resolute Russian side who clawed back twice before down Italy in the tie break.

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Dmitry Volkov claimed 19 points for Russia. Russia's inefficiency behind the service line (8 aces to Italy's 12) and its many mistakes (45) didn't prevent them from taking revenge for the 2000 World League final, when Italy claimed their eighth trophy after beating Russia 3-2 in the final. The Azzurri now have no chance of qualifying for Curitiba.

Both teams hadn't locked horns in the World League since 2013 when Russia won the last two of three World League meetings that year. And the Azzurri aren't exactly going into the game with extra confidence, having lost their last four matches to Poland (3-1), Brazil (3-1), the United States (3-0) and France (3-1).

But despite having one of the best setters of the tournament with Simone Giannelli (4.22 avg per set) and Massimo Colaci excelling in defense (4th best receiver, 6th best digger), Italy knew they had no choice but win against Russia who are in a similar form with just one win and four points in five games.

Italy took an early three-point lead (5-2) after the first technical time out but Russia hit back immediately as Dmitry Volkov was on target to level at 11-11. Another time out allowed Italy to rally as Iacopo Botto served for two straight aces and the Azzurri made the best of Russia's thirteen first set mistakes (21-18). But, in the end, it was Davide Candellaro who blocked for the first time to conclude the set as both teams went back and forth (33-31).

Russia answered with a strong start of the second set with Maxim Zhigalov serving well but the Italians held their ground (9-12). Italy remained in control throughout most of the set thanks to two consecutive aces by Giulio Sabbi (13-16) but Sabbi's attacks got blocked and Russia clawed back to within a single point (18-19). The Exprivia Molfetta opposite was the main threat for Italy but the Russians have weapons of their own in Dmitry Volkov and Maxim Zhigalov (24-23) who shone to level at 1-1 (25-23).

The match on the court between Italy's Botto (14 points) and Russia's Volkov (10 points) continued in the third set as both players exchanged blows and Italy took the lead (8-6). Gianlorenzo Blengini then increased the pace, leaving Russia trailing (16-8) as they made the best of their opponents' many direct faults (20-12). A surge in the business end of the third set allowed Russia to claw back but Botto sealed the deal (25-21).

The fourth and final set was tight as ever with both teams neck and neck from the onset (7-7). Volkov spiked, Botto answered back and Italy and Russia were once again level in a tightly contested fourth (16-16). But Volkov failed to get past Italy's block and Sabbi spiked to give the Azzurri the lead (20-22). It wasn't enough however as Italy collapsed, letting Russia to save three match points (25-23).

The tie break was a thrilling display of beautiful volleyball that started with a Botto ace and a deft Sabbi attack that put Italy in charge (3-2). Russia, however, showed why they are such a force as they produced a gritty comeback to haul themselves level at 6-6. Direct faults on both sides gave Russia a decisive lead (14-8), validated later as Sabbi served into the net.


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