Iran’s second straight victory in Pool D was perhaps even sweeter than their opening triumph over Italy. Not only are the Persians now clearly ahead in the standings, but they also gained a psychological advantage over USA, the team that demolished them in straight sets approximately a month a half ago in the World League semifinals.
In a match to be remembered with the changes of leadership, great rallies and the long dispute near the officials’ table about the controversial 32nd point in the ti-break, Slobodan Kovac‘s side started the game perfectly prepared, just as they did two days ago. The Americans looked vulnerable and had even more problems in comparison to the difficult five-set win against Belgium. For a second game in a row USA are suffering from the same pattern – huge problems with the second outside attacker. Garrett Muagututia is not proving his value in the starting six and was replaced in both games. As a result, John Speraw switched Matt Anderson back to his original position, put Carson Clark, the back-up opposite, in and the Americans suddenly back competitive again. The absence of Sean Rooney is notable as for now, but the big question I should ask is why is someone like Paul Lotman not given enough credit based on the present situation.
The Asian squad almost dropped the victory after the long commercial break between the second and the third sets. Tactically and physically the Persians look impressive, but Kovac is to work on keeping the momentum if he wants his lads to appear in Katowice for the final round. The game should’ve been going to an end after such a magnificent performance in the early stages and should it not have been again for the amazing setter Mir Saeid Marouf, weirdly listed in the stats sheet as Marouflakrani, Iran would have suffered another defeat versus the yankees. They started the tie-break in a more focused manner, as opposed to the fiasco in the third and fourth sets, but the point scorers somewhat got partially out of the game at the end. A magic tip and a brilliant one-hand set are the reasons why Marouf gets my MVP nomination and why actually now Iran have all odds in their favour prior to the next derby in the “group of death”, this time against France.
My pick for the game’s MVP – Mir Saeid Marouf (Iran)
USA – Iran 2-3 (23-25, 19-25, 25-19, 25-18, 15-17)
USA: Christenson 3, Sander 25, Lee 1, Anderson 26, Muagututia 2, Holt 11, E. Shoji – libero, Lotman, Ciarelli, Clark 9, Smith
Iran: Marouf 5, Ghaemi 9, Mousavi 12, Ghafour 21, Mirzajanpour 13, Gholami 11, Zarif – libero, Ebadipour 4, Mahdavi, Tashakori
The clash between the “red dragons” and the Latin Americans was surely expected to be more balanced. Puerto Rico lost in three close sets to France, so I believed they might push their opponents to the limits on Tuesday in Krakow. Nothing like this happened. Belgium was in total control of the encounter. Dominic Baeyens did not even have to make substitutions to change the course of the game, which they dominated anyway. Kevin Klinkenberg and the powerful opposite Bram van den Dries were more confident than two days ago and the latter was the most reliable player for the setter Depestele.
My pick for the game’s MVP – Bram van den Dries (Belgium)
Belgium – Puerto Rico 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-20)
Belgium: Depestele 5, Deroo 13, Verhees 2, van den Dries 19, Kilnkenberg 10, van de Voorde 8, Derkoningen – libero, Coolman
Puerto Rico: Goas 2, Jose Rivera 3, Muniz 4, Torres 9, Soto 6, Mannix 9, Del Valle – libero, Jackson Rivera 1, Ortiz 3, Morales
The all-European derby late in the evening was a match worth your money. If you paid to watch it live in Krakow Arena, of course. Definitely not the most extraordinary technically, but with a lot of drama and yet another change of leadership. “Squadra azzurra” was on the verge of facing a second straight shock after the failed start against Iran. The very shaky Italian team had another weak game start. Dragan Travica is surely having some issues, similar is the case with Simone Parodi. The facts are not in Travica’s favour – Cucine Lube Banca Marche Macerata’s Michele Baranowicz changed the face of Berruto’s six for the second time. Dinamo Moscow’s new signing Ivan Zaytsev almost single-handedly carried “the blues” to the tie-break and eventually won it almost alone. Mauro Berruto is definitely not a relaxed man right now and he will have to make some important decisions if Italy are to have any chance to reach the Final Six.
With all due respect to Laurent Tillie for the work he has done with his team and the way France dealt with Italy in the first three sets yesterday, he just couldn’t miss such a golden opportunity to steal points in what the results confirm as the group of battles. “Les bluez”, having played in white last night, opened the Pandora box by letting Italy wake up and take control of what promised to be another massacre for the reigning European vice-champions. With Iran, USA and Belgium on the line, any point taken might matter, so I doubt Tillie Senior is very delighted with the only one they gained. Besides, for the first time in a while I’ve seen Toniutti fail to deliver properly to his attackers like he did that evening. And all this during a black-out after a French storm in the first hour and a half.
My pick for the game’s MVP – Ivan Zaytsev (Italy)
France – Italy 2-3 (25-20, 25-20, 23-25, 13-25, 12-15)
France: Toniutti 2, Ngapeth 13, Le Roux 6, Rouzier 27, Tillie 8, Le Goff 10, Grebennikov – libero, Aguenier, Lafitte, Marechal, Jaumel 1
Italy: Travica, Kovar 12, Buti 12, Zaytsev 25, Parodi 3, Birarelli 12, Rossini – libero, Baranowicz 2, Lanza 7, Anzani, Massimo Colaci (libero)