For the first time ever, the Italian League decided their champion on Sunday in a one off volleyball event. They hoped to create something along the lines of the Superbowl and focus the attention of the whole volleyball world at one time.
And so it was that 8000 packed into a stadium in Bologna to watch Trento (reigning Italian Cup, World and European Champions) play Cuneo (reigning… Italian Cup runners up?) for all the marbles. After winning the European Champions League in dominant fashion just a week ago, Trento were the prohibitive favourites coming into the match, although Cuneo was second in the league all season and had more than a smattering of world class players (try Grbic, Wijsmans, Henno, Mastrangelo, Nikolov).
The first set went the way many pundits predicted. Trento began with an ace and two blocks against high balls to lead 3-0, and that was as close as Cuneo got. The word ‘domination’ barely describes how easily Trento won the set. But as Grbic said in the post game interview, Cuneo were experienced enough to know that noone can play forever at that level and that their chances would come. Their chances came. From that point on, Trento were never able to generate the same pressure with their serve, partly through making too many errors and partly through a wonderful performance from libero Henno whose control of 130km/h serves had to be seen to be believed. Once the first ball was under control, Grbic was able to work with his offence and even a blocking team of the calibre of Trento had no answer. Cuneo was particularly impressive in the centre of the net, with the first tempo/pipe combination virtually unstoppable (the pipe was 100% for the match). In every other situation, young Italian soon to be star Parodi and Bulgarian opposite Nikolov, worked the high balls to keep Cuneo in advantage. For Trento, it was a disappointing end to a wonderful season in which they won nearly everything possible to win. They will ask the question about what would have been if starting setter Raphael hadn’t broken his finger in the semi finals, but ultimately Vissotto and Kaziyski played marginally below their best and that was enough for Cuneo to take advantage.