Lausanne, Switzerland, August 11, 2019 - Italy wrapped up a thrilling day of Olympic qualifiers across the world, crushing Serbia on Sunday night in Bari 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-19) in just an hour and a half to secure the weekend's last available ticket for the men's volleyball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Italy join Brazil, Russia, USA, Poland and Argentina, who had qualified earlier on Sunday, plus Japan who had a spot by default as hosts in the 12-team lineup of Tokyo 2020. The remaining five Olympic berths will be decided at continental level in January.
Italy and Serbia played at the packed Palaflorio venue in Bari
Led by Ivan Zaytsev's scoring (13 points including all three of his team's aces), Italy totally outblocked the Serbia side 6 to 1, as the Balkan side conceded as many as 18 unforced errors in the three sets.
At no moment in the game were the 'Azzurri' threatened by Serbia, who failed to reach into the 20s in any of the three sets.
Tokyo 2020 will mark Italy's 12th appearance at the Games - still aiming for that all-elusive gold medal after three silver and three bronze.
Brazil survive cosmic scare
Just minutes earlier in Varna, Brazil had survived one Bulgarian match point and pulled off an incredible comeback from two sets down to beat the home side 3-2 (23-25, 19-25, 32-30, 25-16, 15-11) and make Tokyo 2020, where they can now defend their title from Rio 2016.
After Bulgaria stormed to a two-set lead, Brazil warded off one match point of Bulgaria that would have seen the Balkan side through to Tokyo after just three sets, but only managed to extend the game on their seventh attempt, Mauricio Souza attacking for the sideout and Rozalin Penchev then hitting long.
The South Americans cruised in the fourth, gaining an early lead and expanding on that as the set wore on.
But Bulgaria never came back into the game. A brief 2-4 lead by the Balkan side was quickly overriden by a 5-1 Brazil run to make it 7-5 and ensure the South Americans a two-point advantage as the teams switched sides. The three-time Olympic champions reached match point with three to spare, taking the match rather unglamourously when Martin Atanasov hit the last ball long.
It was exactly these errors that cost Bulgaria the match, as they gave away a whopping 36 points to Brazil.
Yoandy Leal with 22 points and Wallace De Souza with 20 (including four aces) brought the points in for Brazil, as they managed to find their way past the menacing Bulgarian block.
Brazil will now be in their 15th Olympic tournament, having played in every single edition since the introduction of volleyball in the Olympic programme in Tokyo 1964. They have won gold medals in Barcelona 1992, Athens 2004 and most recently Rio 2016.
Previously in Varna, Ahmed Shafik had scored 15 points, leading Egypt in their 3-0 (25-17, 31-29, 25-17) win over Puerto Rico. None of the two teams were in contention for an Olympic ticket.
Russia join Olympic party
In Saint Petersburg, it took Russia just over an hour and half, including a come-from-behind third set, to claim their place at the men's volleyball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-23) win over Iran, as the qualifiers across the world continued.
It was not as easy as the final score might suggest, with Russia having to fight back from 17-20 down in the third set, before tying at 21-21, breaking clear with an ace of Egor Kliuka on Purya Fayazi for 23-22 and taking the final point on an attacking error by Amir Ghafour.
Victor Poletaev was top scorer of the game with 19 points (two more than Ghafour) as Russia dominated play in all skills and also took advantage of a full set's-worth of points on Iranian unforced errors.
Russia (including as USSR) have played in every single Olympic volleyball tournament, bar that of the boycotted Los Angeles Games. They top the medals standings of men's volleyball at the Olympic Games with a total of 10 medals, including gold in Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968, Moscow 1980 and London 2012. In fact, they've been absent from the podium only four times in their 13 appearances.
Previously in Saint Petersburg, Cuba had shut out Mexico in the NORCECA derby 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-22), though both teams were out of contention to start with. Jesus Herrera Jaime was top scorer of the game with 26 points including a 60% (21/35) attacking efficiency plus two stuffs and three aces.
USA overpower the Netherlands to make Tokyo 2020
A while earlier, three-time Olympic champions USA had overpowered the Netherlands 3-1 (25-18, 25-20, 17-25, 25-21) in Rotterdam to claim the third Olympic ticket of the day.
Matt Anderson led the scoring for the Americans on 18 points, as Aaron Russell added another 17, Max Holt contributed five blocks and David Smith served three aces. Nimir Abdel-Aziz was the game's high scorer on 23 for the Netherlands.
USA will participate in the Olympic Games for the 12th time overall and 10th straight. They were present in the first two editions after the introduction of volleyball to the Olympic programme, in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968, but missed out on the next three, before returning to pick up back-to-back gold medals in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988. They added another gold in Beijing 2008.
Poland avoid scare, advance to Tokyo 2020
In Gdansk, reigning world champions Poland had made it through to Tokyo 2020 after claiming one set against Slovenia, before going on to win the match outright 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-21).
Slovenia had needed a straight-set sweep and a point difference of 17 or more to complete the upset and get the Olympic ticket themselves.
It was a seemingly impossible task, but the Slovenes were not about to throw in the towel and promptly shocked the pool hosts by taking the first set (and reducing the gap to 13 points).
But Poland were having none of that. Although the two teams were still neck-and-neck at 20-20 in the second set, Poland made a break to open up a two-point margin on back-to-back aces by Wilfredo Leon and kept siding out until a service error by Tine Urnaut brought it all to a rather anticlimactic end and the Poles could properly celebrate.
At that point, Poland coach Vital Heynen brought all his reserves on court, though his Slovenia counterpart Alberto Giuliani stuck with his original starting lineup throughout the rest of the match.
Poland will be at the Olympic Games for the 10th time in their history, having won a sole medal since their first appearance in Mexico City 1968 - gold at Montreal 1976.
Previously in Gdansk, France dropped out of contention early when they lost a set to Tunisia, despite their 3-1 (25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 25-22) win.
Not even coach Laurent Tillie seemed to believe in improbable miracles and he fielded his reserves - Jean Patry emerging the European side's best scorer on 16 points, though Hamza Nagga registered the match high of 23 for the North Africans in this blocking party (15 to 15).
Argentina first qualifier of the weekend
Argentina had earlier on Sunday become the first team of the weekend to secure a ticket to next year's Olympic Games, after taking two sets from China to finish top of their qualification pool in Ningbo undefeated with a 3-2 (19-25, 25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 15-9) win.
Argentina were stunned into action after China (themselves seeking a win for full points to grab the Olympic ticket out of the South Americans' hands) ran away with the first set.
The South Americans reacted building up a seven-point lead at 17-10 in the second. And although China did close in again to within two at 23-21 and 24-22, Cristian Poglajen (who had come on off the bench in the first set) banged the last one in to bring Argentina back in the game.
They still had to come from behind in the third set, but once they got that, their ticket to Tokyo 2020 had been punched and coach Marcelo Mendez could bring on all of his subs. Starting out on Sunday all Argentina needed was two sets to secure the top position in the pool rankings at Ningbo.
Argentina will be at the Olympic Games for the eighth time. They have a bronze medal to show for their previous seven appearances, from the Seoul 1988 Games, when they beat Brazil in the third-place playoff. Eight years later they were again in the bronze medal match at Sydney 2000, but lost that one to Italy finishing fourth.
Previously in Ningbo on Sunday, Stephen Maar and Jason Derocco shared top-scoring honours with 14 points each for Canada as they led the North Americans to a 3-0 (25-16, 26-24, 25-20) over Finland - though both sides were already out of contention.
The five remaining spots to make up the 12-team Tokyo 2020 Olympic lineup will be decided in January at continental qualifiers.
Qualified for Tokyo 2020:
• qualifier from Africa
• qualifier from Asia
• qualifier from Europe
• qualifier from NORCECA
• qualifier from South America
Quick links - Volleyball:
FIVB.com - Tokyo Volleyball Qualification
FIVB.com - Volleyball