Montreux, Switzerland, June 8, 2017- Montreux Masters débutants Argentina finally put reigning Montreux and Olympic champions China to the sword after sealing a dramatic 3-2 (25-20, 18-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15 -13) victory which all but seals their place in the semi-finals. Argentina have all but to avoid a non-tie-break defeat against Switzerland on Friday to progress, whilst China’s point from tonight’s tie-break loss is enough to see them safely through.
Fresh from their victory over the Dutch two days previously, the Argentines were sure to be no pushovers for the reigning champions, who were unrested having successfully negotiated a tiring five-set thriller over the Netherlands on Wednesday evening. Nevertheless, some superb play was on show from both sides in a highly charged opening set, Argentina’s Opposite Lucía Fresco and Wing Spiker Paula Yamila Nizetich hitting eleven points across the set, the score 17-14 in their favour. Gong Xiangyu and Wang Yuanyuan looked dangerous as ever for China, but the South Americans held firm, seeing out the set 25-20 and taking a huge lead over the holders.
But champions never go down without a fight, and An Jiajie’s side came out looking like a completely different team in the second set, racing into a 1-5 lead. Wang Yuanyuan was razor sharp as in the first set, and Li Jing exerted her influence with three spikes and two crucial block points to help China into a 16-20 lead going into the final stages. One sensed the Olympic champions had found their rhythm, and they saw themselves home comfortably in the second set at 18-25 to restore parity.
The champions now had the impetus to push on, and they seized the initiative through stern Argentine resistance, leading 12-13 and 15-16, with both sides in the hunt for that cushion of a one-set lead. Liu Xiaotong was the star of the set for China, hitting eight points to help China over the line at 23-25, and the game was back in their hands at 1-2.
The Chinese had the momentum, and they opened up a 10-16 lead as they sought to end the game in the fourth set. Wang Yuanyuan was the danger woman with five points to help her team, but the Argentines dug in, and in an unprecedented comeback against the champions, Tanya Acosta, Natalia Aispurua, Emilce Sosa and Elina Rodríguez starring as they overturned China and took a 20-19 lead, with some heroic blocking and defending. China then roared back as Liu Xiaotong handed them a 21-22 lead, but Sosa came up trumps with two spikes, the second sealing set point, to send the game to a thrilling tie-break at 25-23.
At this point it was a matter of desire. Would the Montreux debutants or the defending Montreux and Olympic champions want it more? The two teams were deadlocked, before some critical rally wins carried Las Panteras into an 8-6 lead. A crucial moment came at 10-8 to Argentina, when a spike that landed out of play was adjudged to have taken a touch from a Chinese hand by the referee, and Argentina were four points from victory. Sol Piccolo came up a critical block to put Argentina at match point at 14-12. When Nizetich’s attempted ace from the serve went out, Guillermo Orduna dramatically called a time-out for his side with them on the brink of victory. Facing the Chinese serve, Argentina defended, set the ball up, and Rodríguez spiked down to seal a famous victory and condemn the defending champions to their first defeat at Montreux since 2015.