Florence, Italy, September 13, 2018 - There were high expectations at Florence’s Mandela Forum for the match featuring hosts Italy and Belgium’s Red Dragons. Italy had lost 0-3 to Belgium in the quarterfinals of the 2017 European Championship and therefore they wanted to make amends for that setback. Ivan Zaytsev scored 20 points (15 spikes and 5 blocks) to lead Italy to a 3-0 victory (25-20, 25-17, 25-16), with setter Simone Giannelli showing glimpses of his class as well despite his young age. The Italian middle blockers were unstoppable as well.
On the other side of the net, Bram Van den Dries (even though he did not play in the third set) and captain Sam Deroo were the top scorers with seven points each. Perhaps Belgium coach Andrea Anastasi will regret not bringing in Hendrik Tuerlinckx earlier, because he scored five points while playing in the third set only.
Italy electrified the fans from the very first rally with a wonderful pipe by Zaytsev, the best way to let the opponents realise what kind of a match this was going to be. However, a couple of mistakes in reception allowed Belgium to lead at the first technical timeout 8-6. The Italians had to meet the expectations of 8,000 supporters packed inside Mandela Forum, and so they went back to the court after the break extremely determined and quickly it was 10-8 for the Azzurri. Giannelli showed his repertoire as Italy edged ahead at 16-14. At 21-15, it looked like Italy had created a gap that was difficult to make up for even for the fighting Red Dragons. However, Belgium did not surrender easily, as good defence helped them cut the deficit to 18-22. Ivan Zaytsev and Filippo Lanza, however, with two great attacks, gave Italy the first set win at 25-20. Zaytsev scored 8 points, while Giannelli was superb, not just in passing but in defence and block as well.
The battle continued in the second set, with Italy ahead at the first technical timeout (8-6). Giannelli used all of his teammates - hitters, middle blockers and opposite… and sometimes he attacked on the second touch as well. However, Zaytsev was still his favourite choice. A single-man block and a counterattack brought Italy to a 16-10 lead at the second technical break. After the timeout, Italy further extended their lead to 23-15. Anastasi tried to stop the Italian run with some help from the bench, but Osmany Juantorena scored the last point with a jump serve, 25-17.
Some Belgian substitutes (Tuerlinckx, Kevin Klinkenberg and Pieter Coolman) took to the court in the third set. Italy were in top form again, however, and led 6-3 with some terrific attacks. When the Italian reception was not that good, Giannelli still found a way to produce excellent solutions and to help his spikers avoid the Belgian block. Italy were in full control and claimed a 16-9 lead at the second technical timeout. Two points with jump serves by Igor Oskar Grobelny helped the Belgians stay in the game, however Italy answered with the same weapons as Zaytsev scored once again. Giannelli scored two points with his serves as well and the game ended with a fast attack killed by middle blocker Simone Anzani, with a landslide 25-16 win sealing a compelling 3-0 victory for Italy after 90 minutes of play only.