Kraków, Poland, July 14, 2016 – Irritated after their straight sets defeat on the opening day to Brazil, Italy prevailed over USA in a twisting four-setter 3-1 (25-22, 27-25, 26-28, 25-21) with Osmany Juantorena scoring a match-high 23 points.
History repeated itself - since 2007 USA has not won their opening match in any Final Six tournament and this time it was no different. Matt Anderson did his best with 21 points but it was not enough as Juantorena's impressive performance overshadowed all other efforts to keep Italy's chance's of a spot in the semifinals on Saturday alive.
This was the 25th World League meeting between these teams in the World League and Italy now lead the ledger having 13 of these encounters.
The Americans opened the match with two technical errors and lacked concentration from the beginning as a feast of faults continued throughout the first part of the game – Aaron Russell twice hit outside the line while referee Heike Kraft whistled for a net touch as Italy led 8-3. United States woke up a moment later, blocking Fillippo Lanza twice, but they still trailed 16-9. Maxwell Holt did his job on the block, stopping Ivan Zaytsev but the Azzurri still had a four-point advantage at 20-16. Eight-time champions Italy, who were angry after yesterday’s loss against Brazil, did not lose control of the set and closed it out 25-22.
It was visible that John Speraw’s team motivated themselves during the break. Micah Christenson played more confidently on the set but the score was tight and the Americans led 8-7 thanks to Anderson’s huge spike from the right wing. Italy figured out shortly how to block the American top scorer and led 16-15 at the second technical time-out. Juantorena fired up again and doubled the power of his spikes while the US responded with their own fire power of Anderson and Russell. A point-by-point ending belonged to Simone Gianelli, who closed the score after three setballs at 27-25.
The 2014 champions suffered after the close finish but came back with clean minds after the 10-minute break. Substitutions in the roster made the difference – Taylor Sander and David Smith scored, giving their team an 8-5 lead at the first TTO. A moment of distraction on the American side happened and allowed the Italians to get back on track. Juantorena blocked Anderson and there was a tie in Tauron Arena at 18-18. A tight ending heated the tribunes. USA played incredible volleyball including a superb double save from libero Erik Shoji and middle blocker Smith before Russell spiked off the block to clinch an important point. Those were 26 seconds packed with great spikes, digs and blocks from both sides before Anderson finished things off with an unstoppable serve to give USA the third set 28-26.
A boost of confidence from the previous set helped world No. 5 USA in the early stages of set three but Juantorena and Filippo Lanza did not stop the great work with their defensive hands levelling up the score at 6-6. Holt could not find a way to also block Juantorena's kills and a two-point lead was the maximum advantage that USA could build. Zaytsev took over the lead in the Italian attack and put his side's nose in front at 18-17. The lead changed around regularly and the fans in the venue expected another dramatic ending. Then Italy pounced on a run of three straight points to gain a 23-20 lead and then a Simone Buti block on Russell gave them matchball in the next rally. One more score from Thomas Jaeschke and then Juantorena closed the set at 25-21 with one final atomic spike.