Serbia vs. Italy finals preview

Eighteen times the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship was held and yet this is the first to feature two European foes. They’re not just combatants though because one team is like a mirror of the other. On one end is Serbia who has been the model of efficiency throughout the tournament. Battling them in the final is a young Italy squad that has matured as the competition progressed. That might be the only difference we can find for their line-ups imitate the other.

Serbia has the tandem of Tijana Boskovic and Brankica Mihajlovic. Italy has an answer with Paola Egonu and Miryam Sylla. Milena Rasic and Anna Danesi are two of the best middle blockers in the tournament. Serbia has Bianka Busa and Silvija Popovic while Italy can match that with Lucia Bosetti and Monica De Gennaro. The styles of Maja Ognjenovic and Ofelia Malinov are duplicates too especially in turning bad passes into good sets.

So which team has an advantage coming into the gold medal match? That’s difficult to determine.

Last meeting – Serbia dominates

The squad of Coach Zoran Tercic dominated the wards of Coach Davide Mazzanti in four sets: 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 25-23. The win gave Serbia the chance to compete against the Netherlands in the semifinal while Italy went up against China. Both teams won and a rematch is due. While Italy dominated in service aces during their previous match (8-4), the Serbians had a 60-50 edge in attack points while committing less errors, 16-20. The 49 excellent digs of Serbia also signified that their floor defense handled Italy’s powerful spikes.

But while Italy lost the match, it’s fascinating that the point totals of the top scorers are almost identical. Boskovic had 29 while Egonu got 28. Rasic and Elena Pietrini had 15 points each while Stefana Veljkovic and Cristina Chirichella had 10 markers apiece. Even Busa and Danesi both had nine points. But the divide came when Mihajlovic tallied nine while Bosetti only had five. Despite that, the similarities are striking.

How can Italy win

The Italians can throw off the Serbians by playing in a fast pace much like how they did against China in the first set. Malinov was distributing balls at a quick cadence and her sets have varying destinations. They will have a better chance of finding gaps in the Serbian defense if they can keep Rasic and the Serbian net defenders guessing where the attack point is. Italy is the faster team of the two and they should use that to their advantage.

Likewise, they must uphold an aggressive service game to make Busa uncomfortable. She was the weak link during their semifinal match due to her struggles with reception and passing. Egonu will look for her every time she serves in hopes of getting free balls or aces. Italy will break Serbia’s spirit if they can get their service game going.

Much like how they contained Xinyue Yuan to only 16 points in just five sets, Danesi and Chirichella must contain Mihajlovic. Boskovic will get her points but Italy will have a good chance to win if they can stop one-half of Serbia’s two headed attack.

How can Serbia win

Italy is a great blocking team so they must be creative in moving around their attacks. They can have Boskovic and Mihajlovic attack from multiple zones or surprise the Italians with a quick spike from the middle. If they can be efficient with their attacks too, they have a great shot at winning their first ever world title.

They must also have a game plan for Egonu in terms of taking out her cross court attacks. Serbia can gamble with her attacking the sideline but they cannot afford her cross court spikes to land inside. Busa or Popovic must keep an eye of her attacks and dig the balls to maintain the rally. If they can establish their block game, they can beat Italy handily.

Serbia must also have a player who can assist Busa with receptions. This is the finals and they can’t afford to commit the same mistakes again. An over-reception can mean free points for Italy given how talented their starting front rotation is. Mihajlovic and Popovic should be in support capacity to relieve Busa of the stress.