Montreux, Switzerland, September 05, 2018 - Paola Ogechi Egonu was the star of the show as Italy banished their opening day woes with an astonishing display on Wednesday to crush FIVB World Number One seed & reigning Olympic champions China 3-0 (20-25, 13-25, 13-25), preserving their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals from Pool A.
Egonu’s 18-point individual tally (consisting of 14 spikes) helped the Azzurrine formulate the perfect recompense for yesterday’s 0-3 humbling by Turkey, giving shellshocked China coach An Jiajie plenty to think about as the Pool A race to the last four was blown wide open.
The opening set was a tempestuous affair, and perhaps one of the most intense open exchanges of this year’s Montreux Masters, both sides playing with a remarkable energy with the rallies almost scrum-like given the aggression of both sides. But the Italians would be the team to gain a crucial foothold, Cristina Chirichella picking off the Asians with a succession of aces, before the Azzurrine powered into a 14-17 lead. Keeping the Chinese at bay with a staunch defensive display at the net, the Italians clinched the opening set 20-25 after a Chinese serve landed out of play.
Having established a lead, Davide Mazzanti’s side set about maintaining it. Ofelia Malinov and skipper Chirichella would prove particularly influential in the second set as they looked to nullify the threat of the potent Gong Xiangyu and youngster Duan Fang. The Italians were edging the key rallies, and uncharacteristic frustration began to creep into the Chinese ranks, particularly visible on the face of Middle Blocker Hu Mingyuan who was ineffective at times compared to her opening day heroics. Cue Lucia Bosetti, who notched a succession of points to edge the Azzurrine into a 12-21 lead in the second set, providing the perfect platform for the Europeans to cruise to a 13-25 second set win & into a vital 0:2 lead, crowning the set with a dinked finish over the rim of the net.
Bosetti was proving to be a thorn in the side of the Chinese alongside Egonu, her spiking skill notching ten individual points as the Italians looked to press home their advantage and dispose of the Middle Kingdom outfit quickly. As much as those in attendance may have anticipated a Chinese comeback, none was forthcoming. An Jiajie’s side simply hadn’t got started and they weren’t at the races in this final set as Italy motored into a 13-24 lead and onto the cusp of a shock victory. There was a bone of contention about the match-point, however, with lengthy protests from An Jiajie and the Chinese bench as referee Alexander Ryabtsov adjudged the Chinese to have set-up in an illegal formation for Italy’s decisive service. Their protests fell on deaf ears, but the controversy should take nothing away from a sterling Italian performance which leaves them only a win away from the last four and a shot at the podium.
The Azzurrine will have the chance to book their place in the semi-finals on Thursday (06.09.18. 16:30 CET) in a crunch match with host-nation Switzerland, whilst China will look to get back on track in their efforts to qualify when they take on Turkey in a winner takes all showdown (06.09.18. 18:45 CET).