Tokyo, Japan, May 15, 2016 - Watch out Rio, the Italians are coming!
Okay they haven’t earned their ticket yet, but their 3-1 (17-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-16) win over Thailand was impressive and sent out a very clear statement to the remaining teams in Tokyo trying to earn their place at the 2016 Olympics.
Hard to believe Italy could be so convincing after being completely outplayed in the opening set by a Thai team desperate to get to their first Olympics.
Four years ago Nootsara Tomkom was voted best setter at the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers, and she has shown already in Tokyo she has lost none of her skills.
Her quick hands and lightning decision making completely bamboozled the much more fancied Italians in the opening set, Thailand racing to an 8-1 lead with opposite Ajcharaporn Kongyot running riot.
At 16-7 Italian coach Marco Bonitta made major changes, benching experienced pair Serena Otolani, the star of the opening day, and veteran Francesca Piccinini, but nothing could stop the rhythm of Thailand on their way to take the first set 25-17.
The contrast with the second set could not be more stark. Cristina Chirichella perplexed the Thais early, giving Italy a 5-1 lead. Thai coach Radchatagriengkai called a time out, which seemed to correct the listing ship momentarily, and with Nootsara and Ajcharaporn working in tandem again the score was soon locked at 11-11.
But then it was Bonitta’s turn to call a timely time out, and on return it became the Paola Egonu show. The tall Italian is just 17, but is one of the most powerful players in Tokyo this week, and when she finds her range there are few players who can stop her.
Italy eventually took the set 25-16 to level at 1-1.
The second set loss appeared to have taken the wind out of the sails of Thailand, as Italy raced out again to a 5-1 lead. The experience and cool head of 35-year old Antonella Del Core was proving a good mix with the impetuosity of Egonu, who’s radar was going astray in the third set.
Thai captain Pleumjit was trying valiantly to rally her team, but Italy was clicking into a higher gear and staring down every challenge, eventually taking the set 25-17.
The final set was an Italian clinic. Alessia Orro was putting on a setting display of her own, Egonu and Miriam Sylla were blasting the Thais into submission, and the wall of Anna Danesi and Martini Guiggi was impenetrable.
Repeatedly the Asians tried to blast their way past the Italian defence, and on almost every occasion the ball came rocketing back, Italy taking the final set 25-16 and the match 17-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-16.
World Olympic Qualification Tournament websites:Women's WOQT in JapanMen's WOQT in JapanWomen's WOQT in Puerto RicoMen's WOQT in Mexico