Italy’s iron grip on the 2016 Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament has been loosened by an impressive 3-0 defeat at the hands of The Netherlands, (25-21, 25-21, 25-21).
Italy had been hoping to lock away its qualification for Rio, but instead will have to wait for the weekend to secure one of four Olympic berths available.
Lonneke Sloetjes, already the leading point scorer in the tournament, was devastating in the opening set. The 25-year-old clocked up ten points in the opening set as Italy looked under serious pressure for the first time in the week.
Captain Antonella Del Core was leading the way for Italy with six points, but after surrendering the lead early in the set the tournament leaders had no answer to the power of Sloetjes and the physical presence of Yvon Belien at the net.
The crowd had become so used to seeing Italy dominate this week, that when it lost the first set to Netherlands there were looks of disbelief. When the second set went exactly the same way, 25-21 to the Dutch, people were shocked.
The Dutch have struggled for consistency all week. When they’ve been on song, they’ve been as good as any team – even better if you run a line through their domination over Italy in the opening two sets.
Italy has the best depth of any team competing in Tokyo, but it was being sorely tested by the Netherlands. Sloetjes was leading the way with 17 points, while Belien was blocking abd spiking her way to 10 points.
And the set was wrapped up by 20-year-old Celeste Plak, surely the most powerful serve at the tournament, who blasted an ace down the middle and then almost blew one of the Italians off the court with her follow-up.
Del Core was continuing to lead by example with 10 points, but the Italians were struggling for answers, perhaps a reflection it had less to play for than the Dutch, given it needs just one more win to lock away an Olympics gig and there are much easier games than The Netherlands to come.
Surely, the crowd asked, Italy would fight back in the third set? But no, the opposite took place. Netherlands lifted its intensity, Italy made more and more mistakes, and even multiple substitutions could not halt the slide.
Sloetjes finished with 22 points for Netherlands, Del Core with 13 for Italy. The Italians could have wrapped up their Olympic qualification, but instead will have to wait until at least tomorrow to lock away their ticket for Brazil.
The Netherlands move to the top of the leaderboard, alongside Korea and Italy, on 12 points.