Lincoln, United States, May 15, 2018 - Meryem Boz spearheaded a power-packed performance as Turkey began its Volleyball Nations League campaign in emphatic fashion with a 3-0 victory over Italy (25-21, 25-21, 25-20).
Boz was too much for the Italians to handle as her strength and precision accounted for 16 attacking points. The opposite spiker also contributed a pair of telling blocks and was ably backed up by Zehra Gunes, who racked up a further 10 points on offense.
Defensively, libero Simge Sebnam Akoz was a constant source of dedication and energy, as Giovanni Guidetti’s team, featuring 11 debutants out of its 14-strong squad, clicked immediately to begin three days of vital action in Nebraska.
For Italy, using a youthful group in its opening fixtures in order to allow its veterans extra rest time at the end of the European club campaign, Anastasia Guerra collected 10 points but was unable to stem Turkey’s growing momentum.
The crowd at the Bob Devaney Sports Center at the University of Nebraska were keenly anticipating watching the United States in later action, but were given a bonus treat by a Turkey squad that served notice of its plans to make waves in the tournament.
The Turks, ranked 12th in the world, started full of energy and optimism and stormed into an early lead in the opener, rattling off the first five points and setting the tone for the afternoon.
Boz and Gunes were both firing and Cansu Ozbay began quickly, however, two clutch blocks from Marina Lubian kept Italy competitive despite having left themselves a mountain to climb.
Neither side needed any reminding as to how pivotal the second set could be, and so it proved. The set was wildly entertaining, filled with dramatic action, plus, on several occasions, desperate defence.
Italy was finally beginning to find their stride and having trailed for the entire first frame, opened up their first set lead of the match when Guerra’s block put them 7-6 up.
Turkey were not to be denied, however, and worked their way into the set with the help of an outstanding run of form from Akoz. At 7-9, Akoz produced a headlong dive to slide her hand beneath a loose ball that ultimately needed video replay to verify. Moments later she was instrumental again, reeling off three saves to clinch a 26-second rally that had coach Guidetti pumping his fist in support.
The end of the set was all offense, with Boz providing the fireworks, taking Turkey’s spike advantage to 16-9 by the time it was over. When Meliha Ismailoglu capped a magical point with a reflex dig followed by the point-winning block, Turkey was 22-19 ahead and Italy’s resistance seemed to be broken.
Yet Italy’s youngsters were in no mood to go down without a fight and knew that time was running out. Some heavy serving from Rossella Olivotto set up a 10-6 buffer in the third and injected a much-needed lift, but there was simply no denying Turkey.
When things got tough, it was time to turn to Boz once more, who pulled things level at 13-13 with two points that summed up the guile and diversity in her game - with a clever tip followed by a brutal spike - as Italy coach Davide Mazzanti paced the sidelines in frustration.
The end was near and when Camilla Mingardi served long at match point Turkey had made a dream start to its VNL campaign. Italy, ranked seven, will hope to rebound against Poland on Wednesday, while Turkey will try to take its hot form into its clash with the USA.