In the quarter-finals of the men’s volleyball World Cup in progress in Poland and Slovenia, Italy managed to beat reigning Olympic champion France, an opponent against which she had clearly lost two months ago in the Nations League, being eliminated from the tournament. Thanks to the victory in Ljubljana, access to the final will be played on Saturday, which it has not reached since 1998.
The volleyball movement in Italy is one of the most solid and deep-rooted, as well as the clearest proof of the benefits brought about by the stable inclusion of a sporting discipline in school programs. The championships, both for men (Super League) and for women (Serie A1), are among the most competitive and coveted in the world for professionals. In the European ranking, Italy is second for results in both categories. In the CEV Champions League the Italian clubs are historically the most successful among the males, while in the female only the former Soviet Union has the most titles.
Yet, especially in recent years, the national teams, therefore the best expressions of the movement, have not managed to win as much as the clubs, often being overtaken by other more competitive national teams, such as Poland, Brazil and recently France. In women, Italy has not won a World Cup for twenty years: in 2018 it came close, but was beaten in the final by Serbia. And in fifteen editions of the Olympics she never went to the medal. In men the world title has been missing since 1998 and a gold has never been won at the Olympics (up to now 3 silvers and 3 bronzes).
However, international successes were not completely lacking: the national teams won the last European Championships and last July the women’s one won the Nations League. These successes were the first responses to the disappointing defeats suffered at the Tokyo Olympics, which ended in the quarter-finals in both tournaments. One year later, the “redemption” of the movement in view of Paris 2024 is passing through the World Cup: the men’s ones underway and the women’s ones from 23 September.
The discussions after the two Olympic eliminations mainly concerned poor preparation, marked in particular by the absence of matches played in view of the tournaments, caused in part by the difficulties related to the pandemic. From there, the national teams then restarted, albeit from two different points.
The female continues to be coached by Davide Mazzanti, given the good results obtained overall, while the male one has started a new cycle with Ferdinando De Giorgi, three times world champion in the 1990s, as a player. In the past De Giorgi has often been signed by Polish teams, including the national team, which is now one of the most difficult opponents for Italy to beat.
With De Giorgi, the men’s national team began to face a renewal dictated by an inevitable generational change, given the upcoming or already existing retreats of experienced and influential members such as Osmany Juantorena, Massimo Colaci and Ivan Zaytsev. In their place a new generation of players is emerging, from captain Simone Giannelli to the various Yuri Romanò, Alessandro Michieletto and Daniele Lavia, not surprisingly decisive in the victory against France (coached by the Italian Andrea Giani).
The semi-final against Slovenia, the host international, will be played on Saturday night in Katowice, Poland. It is the revenge of the final of the last European Championships, won by Italy a year ago again in Katowice. The other semifinal will be decided on Thursday evening based on the results on the more competitive side of the board, the one where Argentina, the United States, Poland and Brazil are still in the running. The latter two national teams have shared the world titles for twenty years.
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