Modena, Italy, June 24, 2018 – USA move above Serbia to finish third after the 120 round robin matches in the 2018 Volleyball Nations League and with that are confirmed as joining Russia and Poland in Pool B at the Finals next month. Pool A will be made up of hosts France, Serbia and Brazil. Key to their 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 29-27) win tonight against the Azzurri was Matt Anderson who was back with a bang as an outside hitter and top scoring with 16 points, many of which came at crucial moments throughout the course of the match.
USA's last three wins against Italy have come in straight sets and coach John Speraw will be particularly pleased with how his side fought back in the third to snatch it at the death. Anderson is usually their go-to guy and he finished here with 12 spikes (from only 18 attempts), two blocks and two service aces. The Erik Shoji and Micah Christenson libero-setter combination was also back in use and it functioned well allowing all hitters to score decent numbers.
When the day started Italy still had a chance of qualifying for the final 6 but after Poland beat Australia it was mathematically impossible and you sense this had a detrimental impact on their motivation and energy levels. From the start of the match to the finish they struggled to string together a consistent run of points, despite the best efforts of captain and leader Ivan Zaytsev - who finished with 12 points while Filippo Lanza notched up six.
Italy have won four of the last five matches against the United States at world level but on VNL form this one was more likely to go the way of the United States. Italy finish the round robin in 8th position which is way below what they would have been expecting from their 15 matches and with a home World Championships to come later this year they will be looking to raise their level significantly if they are to match the heights of 2016 when they finished up Olympic silver medallists.
With USA leading 8-4 at the first technical, Italy gradually raised their level to reduce the deficit from seven points to three at 19-16. Their star man, Ivan Zaytsev eased through the gears to make it 19-21. If the home crowd had a favourite American player it would be middle Maxwell Holt who plays his club volleyball in Modena, but they will not have liked his ace that clipped the net tape at such a crucial moment.
Next we were treated to a mega rally with both teams sprawling around the court to keep the ball alive, showing lightening reactions and excellent shot selection. It ended after 19.5 seconds with Italy’s Daniele Mazzone wiping off Kyle Ensing and the team in blue refused to lie down despite the best efforts of the United States libero Erik Shoji. Simone Parodi produced a good serving run to get back to 23-24 but as soon as leveling the set at 24-24 was in sight he served long - just.
Italy led early in the second, for the first time since being up 3-2 in the first set, but in many ways this set was just a repeat of what came before. USA hit double figures first and just accelerated away guided expertly by setter Micah Christenson always seeming to find the hitter in form.
The third did start differently with Italy establishing a significant lead, only for it to be seemingly eaten away but the eagle eyes of Italian coach Gianlorenzo Blengini spotted a net touch by Matt Anderson and the point was reversed and the 5,000+ home crowd were thrilled to lead 8-5. However this seemed to annoy the Zenit Kazan star with him taking five of the 10 points the USA had as they trailed 10-13.
Whilst their side out was functioning well, USA were not on form with their serving game with each of the six players missing serves in the same set. It was the story across the match through with USA producing 30 errors compared to 15 from Italy. Blocking was a different story though as USA scored 13 while Italy only managed three.
Italy hit twenty points first but as they were out of challenges they let their frustrations get the better of them with a couple of close calls and soon USA were level (22-22). Then having trailed for the majority of the fourth set Torey Defalco attacked down the line and gave a USA match point. Two more came and went before Anderson got presented with an overpass which he duly killed to take the important straight sets win.