Russia and Italy will lock horns for the FIVB Volleyball Men's U21 World Championship gold, after outclassing Argentina and Poland, respectively, in Saturday's spectacular semifinal battles. While the Russian side managed to proceed to the final match after only three sets, this was not the case with Italy, who started on the wrong foot in their semifinal against Poland, but came back after losing the first two sets. Argentina and Poland will play in the bronze medal match, trying to leave the competition on a positive note.

The first set set the tone for an exciting match ahead. Although both sides struggled in the beginning, then they found their rhythm on the serve and delivered some exciting rallies. The South Americans were more successful in attack (55%) compared to their opponents (25%), but the Russians were able to stabilize their performance. In a close call in the last moments, Russia’s Stanislav Dinekyn showed nerves of steel, scoring two points in a row for 26-24. Neck to neck again in the last minutes of the second set, both Russia and Argentina amazed the crowd at the Pirastu hall in Cagliari. With an outstanding 86% success in attack, Manuel Armoa was giving his best, but Omar Kurbanov was impeccable on the other side of the net with two successful attacks and an ace to put the end of the discussion in this part. Kurbanov, who also opened the set with an ace, collected a tally of three direct serving points in the set. Losing the first two sets, Argentina lost rhythm in reception in the third one. The Russians controlled the game on the block to emerge victorious.

As the match unfolded, Russia established their domination on all counts, finishing better in attacking (41 to 36), in blocking (eight to five) and in serving (11 to three). As many as three players finished with 16 points each to their names - Russia’s Omar Kurbanov and Roman Murashko and Argentina’s Manuel Armoa.

“We knew that Argentina were a strong team, and we were prepared to face them. We are now in the final, and, of course, we want it all! Tomorrow, our goal is the gold,” Stanislav Dineykin, opposite of Russia, told Volleyball World.

Alessandro Michieletto started on fire in the match, scoring as many as five points (100% efficiency) until the 8th point. However, the Polish team, led by Jakub Strulak, sped up on their block (three in the set), while Italy were suffering from their own mistakes. Only in the first minutes of the next set did Italy show their real fighting spirit (6-6). The players around Angiolino Frigoni kept on having problems with their own mistakes (24 for the first two sets), while the Poles proved again better on the block.

It wasn’t over yet for the Italian squad, who showed their real potential and stormed out in the third set. Led by Federico Crosato (100% efficiency in attack, five points) and Michieletto (86%, six points, 100% reception), the co-hosts got back in the game. The Polish react after the thrid-set shock, but still let some unforced errors affect the score (two serve errors in a row). Both Tommaso Stefani and Tommaso Rinaldi stole the show towards the end of the set, recording important blocks, bringing the match into a tie-break. After a flying start (8-1) in the decisive part, the Italians lost their rhythm for a while, but eventually seized the victory.

Statistically, Italy and Poland showed equal performance in blocking (14 each) and in serving (2). As many as 59 winning spikes made the difference for the Italians (compared to 41 by the Poles). Alessandro Michieletto was above all, with 22 points to his name.

“Things changed when we were able to show power on the serve. In the first two sets, we couldn’t emerge victorious after point-for-point games. Instead, in the next three sets, we showed that when we were leading, we played our game. This is something that we have to work on - we have to improve in such situations, because the set is not lost until you lose it. This will be our lesson for tomorrow’s final,” Alessandro Michieletto, outside hitter of Italy, told Volleyball World.