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Italy’s Pietrini in action

Brazil and Italy will lock horns in Sunday’s final of the women’s Volleyball Nations League 2022. In Saturday’s first semifinal in Ankara, the silver medallists of the previous two editions, Brazil celebrated with a 3-1 (14-25, 25-18, 26-24, 25-19) victory over reigning world champions Serbia to advance to their third consecutive VNL final. In the second, Italy upset hosts Türkiye with a 3-0 (25-18, 28-26, 25-22) shutout to secure their first-ever medal in the competition.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Brazilian opposite Kisy Nascimento was the best scorer of the first semifinal match on 19 points, followed by her Serbian counterpart, captain Ana Bjelica, on 17. Outside hitters Julia Bergmann and captain Gabriela Guimaraes contributed 16 and 15 points to Brazil’s success, respectively, while middle Ana Carolina Da Silva had another impressive blocking performance, putting away six stuffs towards a 13-point tally. Serbian middle Jovana Stevanovic had four kill blocks and two aces for a total of 15 points in the game.

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Carol spikes against Stevanovic

Brazil recovered from an early 4-1 Serbian advantage with Gabi spiking for 7-7 and Carol monster-blocking for 8-7. However, it was a short-lived Brazilian lead. Two back-to-back kill blocks by middle Maja Aleksic, followed by two successful hits in a row from outside Sara Lozo, put Serbia up front again, with an 11-8 advantage. The European team continued to dominate at the net in attacking and especially in blocking (seven stuffs in the set), but also put in a couple of aces on the way. Aleksic scored from the serving line for 18-10. Finally, Katarina Lazovic subbed in to take the serve and placed it elegantly right on the empty spot in the middle of the Brazilian half to close the set at 25-14.

A surprising tip on two by setter Bojana Drca was followed by an ace from Stevanovic to give Serbia a 7-3 advantage in set two. After 9-7, however, Brazil went on an amazing 10-1 run to break away with a 17-10 lead. Bergmann was on fire in offence, but she also placed a powerful ace for 21-12. Carol hammered the set winner with a thunderous hit through the middle for 25-18.

Carol – best blocker of the Brazil v Serbia semifinal

A successful spike and an ace by Bielica started a five-point Serbian series in the third set. A kill block by Bojana Milenkovic extended it to a 6-1. Brazil had a five-point run of their own to get back to within one at 14-13, but a Stevanovic ace widened the gap again to 16-13. Brazil finally caught up at 22-22 after back-to-back monster blocks by Carol and by Julia Kudiess and an attacking error by the opponents put them at a 23-22 lead. Bergmann’s swing delivered the first set point at 24-23, but Brankica Mihajlovic denied it with a kill block for 24-24. Bergmann brought in another one with an off-the-block hit for 25-24 and this time Kudiess converted with a two-handed touch on the overpass for 26-24.

Right from the start of the fourth set, Brazil started building up a lead. They lost it momentarily, but then, after 5-4 Serbia’s way, they scored three in a row to regain control. Setter Macris Carneiro tipped the ball over on two to widen the gap to 16-12. She followed up with a kill block for 17-12, before a Bergmann back-row hit pushed Brazil further to 18-12. The South Americans continued to set pace through the end, which came at 25-19 on a Serbian serve into the net.

“It was about trusting each other. We lost the first set because we didn’t play in our rhythm, but then we found it in the second and we fought for every ball. We were behind at some moments in the sets, but we fought and all together we got to 3-1. And it’s amazing! We are in the final! For me it’s amazing to be here! Playing in the VNL is a great opportunity to play on a high level.” Julia Bergmann, outside hitter of Brazil

Italian star opposite Paola Egonu once again showed her scoring prowess contributing a match-high 26 points towards her team’s victory in the second semifinal. Her tally included three kill blocks and an awesome ace for the match winner. Outside hitter Caterina Bosetti also had a great match and finished with 11 points, while middle blocker Anna Danesi impressed with five stuffs. Opposite Ebrar Karakurt was Türkiye’s best scorer with 14 points to her name. Middle blocker and captain Eda Erdem added another 11.

Spearheaded by Egonu and Bosetti, Italy completely outspiked Türkiye in the first set and their offence produced as many as 17 points towards the 25-18 win. The Italians broke away in the score with a four-point run crowned by Danesi with an overpass hit for 6-4. Another four-point series widened the gap to 10-5 and then the Italians cruised on to extend it even further through the end of the set. The margin reached seven points on a Bosetti ace for 23-16, shortly before a successful attack by outside Elena Pietrini put an end to the set.

Paola Egonu’s top plays against Turkey

Two successful overpass hits in a row by Danesi on Cristina Chirichella’s serves put Italy up front at 4-3 in the second set. After 16-14 Italy’s way, Türkiye went on a five-point run, during which Erdem paid back the favour with an overpass shot to put her team in the lead. Moments later, two consecutive back-row kills by Egonu levelled it back at 21-21. Karakurt put the ball on the floor for the first set point at 24-23. However, Egonu and Bosetti fired the next two points to turn the tables. The home team denied two Italian opportunities to close the set, but on the third one, a clever tip by Bosetti brought it home for Italy at 28-26.

Three points in row, including kill blocks by Egonu and Bosetti, opened an 8-4 gap in favour of Italy in set three. Inspired by the cheering home crowd that filled up the stands, Türkiye fought back and twice in the set, after Karakurt aces, they were able to get back to within one, at 13-12 and at 21-10, but never managed to completely close the gap. After a long serve by Erdem, Italy reached match point, which Egonu converted to a 25-22 win in the most spectacular of ways, with a perfectly cut ace in an empty corner of the Turkish half.

“It was amazing! So many fans! I can say I felt a lot of tension at the beginning, but I am happy how we were able to focus on what we wanted to do. I have played a lot against Giovanni Guidetti and he troubles me a lot since every time he tries to do something different. So I am happy because it brings my level up as I’m always trying to improve myself.” Paola Egonu, opposite of Italy