Italian captain Sylla and her teammates progress to the semifinals

Italy booked the first place in the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022 semifinals on Tuesday. At the Omnisport in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn, the reigning Volleyball Nations League and European champions and new FIVB World Ranking number ones mastered a 3-1 (25-16, 25-22, 13-25, 25-17) quarterfinal victory over China. It was the fifth time in the six most recent editions of the World Championships that the Italians have qualified for the semifinals.

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Italy’s star opposite Paola Egonu produced a massive match high of 29 points, including two kill blocks. She spiked at a 50% success rate in attack. Middle blocker Anna Danesi added 12 points, including four stuffs. Outside hitter and captain Miryam Sylla also finished with 12 points, including three blocks. Outside Li Yingying was China’s most prolific player with 14 points.

The first set started with a monster block for Italy and finished with a monster block for Italy. After China’s setter Diao Linyu took the first serve of the quarterfinals, Italy’s middle blocker Marina Lubian scored the first point with a kill block. After China equalized, the Italians hammered out five points in a row for a 6-1 lead and never looked back. Riding the momentum, they extended their advantage to seven points at 14-7. With some good digging and blocking, and Li spearheading the attacks, China attempted a comeback, but to no avail. An ace by Italian outside Caterina Bosetti widened the gap to eight points at 23-15 and a monster block by Sylla finished the set off at a nine-point margin, 25-16.

The points at the start of the second set came in bunches. Lubian fired two aces and forced an overpass in between, which Danesi landed, within a 3-0 run. However, China responded with four points in a row to take the lead for the first time in the match, but it was the last time in this set. Italy took their turn with a five-point run to gain control with an 8-4 advantage. But then a tough battle unfolded. With opposite Gong Xiangyu leading the way, China gradually closed the gap and eventually levelled the score at 15-15 on an off-the-block shot by outside Wang Yunlu. However, Italy immediately broke away again with four points in a row. A brilliant Egonu delivered her eighth successful swing of the set to bring in set point at 24-21, before a Chinese serve into the net closed it off at 25-22 to double Italy’s lead.

With Wang putting points away early into the third set, including an off-the-net ace for 5-2, China swiftly took a 7-2 lead after a series of four consecutive points. Everything seemed to be working well for the Asian team through the rest of the set, including the abundant errors by the opponents. Completely dominating on the court, China opened a huge gap. Another ace, this time by Li, brought in set point at 24-13, and then a successful video challenge revealed that Egonu’s attack landed a millimetre out of bounds for another unforced error that shaped up the final set score at 25-13.

The fourth set was quite competitive through 7-7, but after that Italy ran off with a wide lead, extending it to 14-9 on a four-point series. Egonu kept the fire burning at the net and delivered as many as nine points, including the match winner, towards an emphatic 25-17 close.

“It’s an honour that the team rely on me. It’s the best thing that I can do. I was really calm because I’ve learned that being tense doesn’t help. I was just focused and the important thing was, have fun,” said Egonu after the match. “I am so proud of how we stayed in the game, because China are, of course, a good team, and they served really well. In the third set, we went down a little bit, but I am happy because we were right there on it in the fourth set and we won this! Tomorrow is another day...”

Wednesday’s semifinal opponents for Italy will emerge later on Tuesday, from the match between Brazil and Japan, starting in Apeldoorn at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT).