Tokyo, Japan, November 11, 2009 – Italy were expected to cruise to victory over South Korea in the FIVB 2009 Women’s World Grand Champions Cup on Wednesday, but the Koreans hadn't read the script. Italy still won, but had to come back from two sets down, finally winning 24-26, 24-26, 28-26, 25-19, 15-9 after more than two hours of play.
Playing at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, the Italians again looked slow in the early stages of the match and Korea led 12-11 on the back of good attacking play by Kim Yeon Koung and Hwang Youn Joo. Italy took over the lead at 13-12 but could not break free from the Koreans, who fought back to 22-22 on good work by Yoon Hye Suk. A terrific block by Kim on Francesca Piccinini gave the Koreans two setpoints, but they allowed the Italians to draw level at 24. A soft, placed shot by Hwang earned another setpoint and Kim sealed the set, first with a great block and then a spike.
The Italians fell behind in the second set, but Simona Gioli sent a strong message to the Koreans with some devastating spikes and the Koreans were finding it hard to hold off the European champions. But at 16-14, the Koreans were still ahead despite further good play by Gioli. The tournament's wild cards increased that lead to four points at 19-15 but again they let the Italians come back after making several errors. Italy crept ahead on a decent shot by Gioli, but Kim responded well for Korea with a pair of spikes that brought the scores level at 23 and again at 24. Gioli then undid all her good work with a pair of errors that handed the set to Korea.
Korea's defense had been good all match and they started off the third set with three fabulous blocks – Kim Se Young on Jenny Barazza, the same player on Serena Ortolani and then Hwang on Ortolani. Ortolani was quickly withdrawn. Hwang contributed with two good spikes and the Italians failed to return two serves as South Korea cruised into an 8-4 lead at the first technical timeout. Korea kept the pressure on with excellent defending and good offense, particularly from the left-handed Hwang. But the Italians were never far away and they were able to pull level at 18 afterYoon sent a shot wide. They went ahead by three points and were ahead 23-20, but Korea pulled back to 23-22. Piccinini earned setpoint at 24-22, but Kim Yeon Koung then put on a one-woman show as she kept her team in the game with four storming spikes. But at 26-26, Cristina Barcellini earned another setpoint and Barazza hit through the South Korean block to give Italy a lifeline.
The Italians looked more businesslike at the start of the fourth set, while the Koreans went off the boil after leading 3-1. Two spikes by Gioli and two Korean errors put the Italians 8-4 at the first TTO and things didn't get any better for the Koreans. They failed to return three serves in the next period and their defense was starting to show holes. They were six points down at the second TTO and Italy were able to maintain that margin at the end. Barcellini spiked her team to setpoint and Lucia Bosetti hit a good shot to make the set count 2-2.
The Italians seemed to be in a far more positive frame of mind than the Koreans at this point and this was reflected in the early stages of the tie-breaking set. The Italians were finding holes in the Korean defense and the Koreans were finding it hard to either attack or defend. As a result, Italy sped into an 11-3 lead from which there was no way back for the Koreans. Barazza brought up matchpoint with a spike and the match ended with a Korean whimper when Lee Bo Lam planted a serve into the net.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images