San Juan, Argentina, June 2, 2018 - Ivan Zaytsev surged back to top form as Italy rebounded from their first Volleyball Nations League defeat to sink Iran 3-0 (25-23, 25-18, 25-20) on Saturday.
Zaytsev, the prolific and hard-hitting Italian wing spiker, had struggled in his team’s loss to Canada a day earlier but was back to his best in racking up 14 attacking points to comfortably see off Iran’s challenge.
Osmany Juantorena was strong and consistent again and contributed 11 points of his own to ensured Italy’s cruised to their fourth win after five games of VNL action.
Milad Ebadipour was firing again for Iran and came up with 11 total points, yet the team was unable to conjure another positive result to follow on from its previous victory over host nation Argentina.
There was a whole different level of energy about Italy as the fourth-ranked team in the world was clearly on a mission to show they can be a serious threat in the competition and the intensity was too much for their opponents to handle.
The opening set was tight and tense but the Italians seemed to relish the struggle. Juantorena’s elbow problems from earlier in the tournament seemed to be behind him as he led the way early, combining fierce offense with fine court-positioning to open up a small gap.
Iran, ranked eight, fought hard and when Ali Shafiei blocked Juantorena to make it 23-24 it looked as they might sneak out of trouble. However, a Seyed Eraghi fault on set point let Italy off the hook, and set the tone for the rest of the match.
Momentum was now firmly in the Italian camp and Gianlorenzo Blengini’s side was suddenly full of confidence, and unafraid to show off its swagger. Luigi Randazzo produced one of the serves of the tournament with a swirling, dipping effort for an ace to make it 20-14 and Simone Anzani followed up an imposing block at the net with a scream of delight to send Italy on its way.
Iran was suffering, and though Igor Kolakovic called a clever challenge with no timeouts left to give his squad a breather, it ultimately made little difference as his team slumped to a seven-point reversal.
After winning its last six five-setters in a row Iran would have liked its chances in a decider, but getting to that point was always going to be a major obstacle. Italy’s repeated its habit of making solid starts to each set, and while Ebadipour put up a fight and got things close at 16-14 with an ace, the all-round game of the European side was the telling difference.
Zaytsev is near-impossible to stop when he is in full flow and his huge smash to establish a late four-point lead seemed to knock the last bit of fight out of Iran. Libero Massimo Colaci finished things off on the final point and just like that, all seemed well in the Italian camp once more. Blengini’s team will cap things off in San Juan by taking on Argentina, while Iran will meet Canada in their final encounter of the round.
Italy’s win took them to 11 points and fifth place in the VNL table - and well in contention for a finals slot as things stand. Iran’s tally of five points is good enough for 11th place after five matches.