Modena, Italy, June 23, 2018 – He is the captain and he is the star player but very rarely does he take center stage as he did tonight. Ivan Zaytsev scored nearly a complete set of points on his own as the “Azzurri” claimed a famous 3-0 win (25-21, 25-22, 27-25) over France After the match the main man said he was “Happy about the win as we were able to reset after yesterday. Our motivation was so big and the result is this. Our strategy was just to stick together and we did it.”
Other key performers for Italy were setter Simone Giannelli who showed exactly why he is one of the worlds best, and Filippo Lanza who scored 9. However their numbers were blown out of the park by Zaytsev who scored 23 points consisting of 16 spikes, 4 blocks and 3 aces through the match and he will be expecting to do the same tomorrow against the USA.
Coach Gianlorenzo Blengini erupted after the match and will be pleased with the fight his side showed but will reflect and wonder why they have not been at that level in all of their previous matches. With that win Italy have taken three matches in a row against France at major world level for the first time since four wins in 2010-2011.
France beat the United States 3-2 on Friday for their seventh VNL win in a row but Italy halted that run in devastating fashion here. No-one from the French side will be happy with their performance but the players who stood out tonight were Stephen Boyer with 11 points and libero Jenia Grebennikov.
Italy have won the last two world level major competition matches against France at world level but on recent form France would have started as favourites. After all Italy had a W7-L6 record at the VNL which is hardly Final 6 form but with another 3 points they are still in with a shot if they win tomorrow against the US and other results go their way. The other match tomorrow at Pala Panini in the final matches of this pulsating round robin stage will be France against Russia to decide who finishes top of the table.
Italy started the game knowing it was 3 points or bust and they were first to 20, and more importantly first to 25. A mega rally at 23-21 was the crucial moment when France threw everything they could at Italy but in the end Simone Anzani hit a middle winner to bring up set point. Earvin Ngapeth then when long when attacking from broken play and Italy were a third of the way there.
That set win also helped Italy keep an impressive stat of not having lost back-to-back matches at world level in straight sets since 3-0 defeats against Brazil and Bulgaria at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
Stephen Boyer was France's top scorer in their win against the United States on Friday (scoring 21 points) but just as everything went his way the day before he cut a frustrated figure here. France did lead 16-12 at the second technical but from here there was a momentum switch and only minutes later Zaystev scored to level at 17-17 after his side took 5 points in a row.
This run kick-started the crowd again and the hall was rocking with 5,000 fans joining in with the match and the Italian team fed off it with every score.
Laurent Tillie rang the changes and on came his son Kevin Tillie and Jean Patry, but the latter was stuff blocked on numerous occasions by an imposing Italian block. However each time they won back the serve Italy gifted it away again with a service error. Fortunately their side out game held out and captain Zaytsev hit the set winner after 30 minutes and cue the euphoria again.
With that Italy were two thirds of the way towards keeping their dream alive and from the start the third felt different with the home team showing the composure you would expect from the 2016 Olympic Silver Medallists. However despite their early dominance and four point lead, France stayed in contention and a surge as they reached the teens saw Benjamin Toniutti steer his team to a 19-16 lead.
At 19-20 Zaytsev appeared to foot fault on service and the French successfully challenged to move within four points of taking the third set. A tense and exciting end of the set showcased Zaytsev at his very best as he forced 3 match points for the home side and eventually a kill block by Daniele Mazzone got Italy the three vital points they needed.
That sets us up nicely for the final day of action where Italy will need three more points but first they will watch the earlier matches with interest and hope that things are still in their hands when they come to serve at 19:30 local time.