Rotterdam, Netherlands, June 6, 2018 - Paola Egonu fired Italy to a second successive five-set victory (18-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-15, 15-8) in Rotterdam as they came from behind to beat the Netherlands in a pulsating FIVB women's Nations League match to keep their Final Round hopes alive.
The in-form Italians came into this match on the back of five wins from their last six VNL matches, including a memorable five-set victory over Serbia on Tuesday, and they came from two-sets-to-one down with Egonu's power proving the difference as the Netherlands were stunned in front of a 2,500 capacity crowd.
The Dutch looked to have sealed back-to-back Pool 13 victories thanks to the spike prowess of Lonneke Sloetjes, who weighed in with a team-high 25 points, but Jamie Morrison's girls faltered in the face of some riproaring Italian attacking in sets four and five with Sloetjes missing some key spikes in the tie break.
This was a richly deserved sixth victory in seven VNL matches for Italy, who incredibly lost their opening four fixtures in this inaugural tournament, but they now move on to 18 points - just six behind the Dutch who occupy fifth place, with Italy still able to claim a maximum of 12 points from their remaining four group-stage fixtures. Their hopes of making it to the Final Round in China are still very much alive.
Egonu the star as Italian momentum builds
19-year-old Egonu, much like her team, was slightly off the pace to start with, missing a spike to hand the Dutch a 13-11 lead in the opening set, but it wasn't long before she started finding her radar.
After Italy had lost the opening set, Egonu took control and a tremendous block - one of four she made throughout the match in just four attempts - edged Italy into an 11-7 lead in the second set, which they went on to take.
The Dutch were struggling to live with her and Egonu finished with a game-high 27-point haul, including 21 spikes and two incredible aces as her dipping serve unsettled the hosts.
Despite fluffing her lines on occasion, Egonu won the battle with Dutch top scorer Sloetjes to propel Italy to another famous five-set victory.
Sets four and five crucial
Davide Mazzanti's girls made 10 errors in the first set alone, but despite dropping the third with another error-strewn set, they roused themselves superbly in a sensational comeback.
Inspired by Egonu and the outstanding Anna Danesi, Italy were transformed in set four and raced into an 18-11 lead before another Egonu block made it 21-12.
The Italian blockers, with Egonu and Danesi, who also won four blocks, were dominating and the visitors' potent serving was causing the Dutch endless problems. So it was fitting that Elena Pietrini - another brilliant performer with 14 points - wrapped up the set with an ace to send it to a tie break.
Italian momentum was in full swing and with the excellent libero Monica De Gennaro controlling things, Pietrini, Danesi and Egonu added further points as the visitors wrapped up the set in comfortable fashion - and with it a fourth successive victory.
With Sloetjes, Yvon Belien and Celeste Plak in their team, the Dutch have tremendous attacking firepower, but they were surprisingly overwhelmed in the final two sets as they surrendered a healthy advantage.
Yvon Belien (8 points), Celeste Plak (10 points) and setter Laura Dijkema all helped Sloetjes steer the Dutch ship in an impressive opening three sets, but all of them went missing at crucial times as the hosts had no answer to incessant Italian attacks thereafter.
The Dutch lost the battle of the blocks, finishing with figures of eight blocks to Italy's 11, while they made 35 errors to the visitors' 28.
Morrison's girls remain fifth and in a healthy position to make the Final Round, holding an 8 & 3 record, but they must respond against Serbia on Thursday to maintain their grip on the top five.
An honourable mention to Anna Danesi, but Paola Egonu was imperious throughout and the Italian lynchpin as they turned the game on its head in the final two sets. Her outstanding dipping serve and blocking ability complement her spike threat. A complete player already at such a tender age.