Van Den Dries scores 20 as Belgium prevail over Italy


Antwerp, Belgium, 17 Jun, 2017 - Belgium put themselves right back in the mix for qualification for the Final Six after a gritty four-set victory (25-22, 26-24, 25-27, 25-16) over World League giants Italy, who are now eliminated from the competition following a chastening evening in Antwerp.

Bram Van Den Dries was the danger man for the Belgians in Friday’s defeat to Canada, and he was their top marksman again on Saturday with 20 points including 16 spikes. Simon Van der Voorde was the defensive anchorman as he won three crucial blocks.

Luca Vettori, the game’s top scorer with 22 points, led the scoring for the Italians, who were short of their best for long spells as they slumped to yet another loss.

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Italy came into the match having made their worst-ever start to a World League with five defeats in their opening seven matches, and they desperately needed to back up their impressive victory over France last time out to keep their qualification hopes alive. Belgium – on a 3 & 4 record - also needed the win to keep their quest for a rare Final Six berth on track after losing to Canada in their previous outing.

The Italians are traditional powerhouses of the indoor volleyball circuit despite their poor 2017 showing, but they looked far from their flamboyant best in the opening set as they struggled for consistency. With the game tied at 14-14, Italian errors started to creep in as the hosts went two points clear (20-18) thanks to a powerful Bram Van Den Dries spike. And the Belgians duly served out the set with relative comfort (25-22) to move into the lead.

2016 Olympic silver medallists Italy won both fixtures in straight sets in last year’s World League, and they were ahead for the majority of the second set. Gianlorenzo Blengini’s men established a four-point lead at 22-18, with luck appearing to be on their side after a controversial call went in their favour after the ball came off a camera stand. The Italians looked set to level the match, but Belgium produced an incredible comeback to reel off the next four points. The momentum was now with the hosts and they finished off the set 26-24 on their second set point after Van Den Dries’ superb block.

The Italians have won almost every single honour in the game, but they looked a long way from their all-conquering attacking best. However, they did show plenty of character and desire in a third set that changed hands several times. At 25-24 behind, Italy were staring at a straight-sets defeat, but Vettori’s superb block saved a match point and the visitors went on to take the third set 27-25 to give their Final Six qualification hopes a lifeline.

But Italian hopes were short-lived as they capitulated in the fourth set in the wake of fierce Belgian defence. Vital Heynen’s men were 15-13 ahead but then notched seven successive points to blow Italy away. Davide Candellaro saved one match point, but Luca Spirito’s wayward serve sealed the visitors’ fate as they fell to a four-set defeat.
Belgium now go into their last Group One match against France with a 4 & 4 record and with their qualification hopes in their own hands, while eight-time winners Italy (now 2 & 6) will only have pride to play for against Canada after enduring a torrid campaign.

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