Osaka, Japan, June 9, 2018 - Italy worked overtime again but they got the rewards on Saturday as a solid 20-point return from captain Filippo Lanza led them past Bulgaria 3-1 (25-23, 25-19, 21-25, 25-19) in third-round action at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
The wing spiker shouldered the bulk of the work for the Italians during this visit to the Osaka Municipal Central Gym and found great support once against from the towering Gabriele Nelli (16 points) whose penetrating serves added an extra dimension to the net-game that was responsible for 13 spikes in his tally.
Bulgaria battled hard but just couldn't peg back the Italian's early lead and had Nikolay Uchikov on fire once again, the wing spiker contributing 19 points.
Italy had shown their depth - and their resolve - in forcing high-flyers Poland to a fifth-set on Friday and they went at everything against Bulgaria, some flashes of superb court coverage by libero Fabio Balaso revealing just how much getting this victory in mean to their squad.
It has been a long time between drinks for the Bulgarians, in terms of beating Italy. The last time they had defeated their European rivals in a world competition was back in the early rounds of the 2012 Olympics in London.
They came in confident enough, have dispensed with hosts Japan the night before 3-0 in a match where the scoreline didn't reflect just how close things were. The feeling was that this match would basically come down to a shootout between the two team's top guns - with the 201cm Nelli on the one side of the net and the 207cm Uchikov on the other. But Lanza was able to rise above them both in a stellar performance on the afternoon.
With top-scorer Ivan Zaytsev (121 points) left out of the squad for this road trip to Japan, Italian coach Gianlorenzo Blengini has been looking for someone to step up. So far Nelli had toiled admirably in the star's absence - Saturday's tally of 16 adding to his match-high 25 against Poland on Friday - and he'll be looking on Sunday to ensure all that hard work leads to another win for Italy (5-3) against host Japan.
It would certainly throw the Italians right back into contention for the VNL finals.
Inconsistency is meanwhile still a problem for the Bulgarians (3-5) and they'll have to work extra hard to find it on Sunday when they face Poland, one of the form teams of the inaugural VNL.