Florence, Italy, September 17, 2018 – Argentina and Slovenia delivered the most dramatic match played at Nelson Mandela Forum this far as Bruno Lima and Cristian Poglajen took turns in leading Argentina to a 3-2 victory (25-18, 22-25, 27-29, 25-17, 15-13). Facundo Conte and Lisandro Zanotti joined forces to score another 24 points for the South Americans. The result means that no matter how the matchup between Italy and Slovenia ends on Tuesday, the Azzurri will claim first place in the pool.
Mitja Gasparini was the top scorer for Slovenia with 19 points (17 attacks and 2 aces) as Slovenia did not show the same quality in reception as in their previous matches.
World Championship rookies Slovenia were hoping to add another victory to their record after previously beating the Dominican Republic, Japan and Belgium. Setters Maximiliano Cavanna and Gregor Ropret stepped in for Luciano De Cecco and Dejan Vincic respectively, thus getting a reward for their solid performances in the last matches in the pool.
An ace by Agustin Loser sealed a 7-2 lead for Argentina in the first set and they further extended it to 16-7 thanks to a couple of blocks. After the second technical timeout, Alen Sket got Slovenia closer. A block by Sebastian Solé and a lucky ace by Conte pushed the South Americans to 20-11. Slovenia attempted a comeback, vainly interrupted by a Velasco timeout, as they closed in at 17-22 before Solé’s block sealed the first period 25-19.
Argentina claimed an 8-5 lead in the second set and Slovenia head coach Slobodan Kovac decided to let Vincic step in for Ropret. Gasparini was on fire, levelling the score three times, including once with an ace measured at 126 km/h. Argentina seemed to struggle and Vincic with an unexpected second touch attack scored the last point in the set for a 25-22 Slovenian win.
The two teams exchanged the lead back and forth in the third set. Slovenia broke away at 20-17 but Argentina came back to 23-all. Slovenia wasted a first set point because of a misunderstanding between Vincic and Tine Urnaut. At the end of a spectacular third set, probably the most intriguing in Pool A this far, a single block by Klemen Cebulj secured Slovenia a 29-27 win.
Zanotti continued to play instead of Conte in the fourth set, as Pablo Crer stepped in for Loser with a very positive impact as he scored two blocks and two attacks. Argentina rushed to a 16-10 lead at the second technical timeout. Cebulj tried to stand the challenge, but Zanotti scored two short diagonal spikes and the set finished with another monster block by Crer.
An all-important tiebreak was due to determine the eventual winners of this exciting match. Knowing how much was at stake, both teams looked very nervous but Slovenia claimed a small 8-7 lead at the side switch. Urnaut scored for 10-9 but Argentina had a positive run of a few straight points to edge ahead at 13-11. Cristian Poglajen cashed Argentina’s second match point at 15-13 to secure a 3-2 victory for the South Americans.
An interesting fact to notice: for most of the match, with the exception of their libero, Slovenia’s shortest player was at least 200 cm tall.