I had never seen this match until recently watching it on YouTube. The Olympic and World League Finals in 1996 are more famous so I had never even had the urge to track it down. Luckily I have rectified that mistake. Here are some thoughts and observations, a kind of running diary if you will.
Italy lead for the whole set, as both teams win points in pairs, so it seems. They lead 10-5, 11-6, 12-9, 13-11…
Gardini is a guaranteed sideout, one of the greatest sideout hitters of all time, while Giani at opposite plays great and the Italian defence dominates with excellent positioning and timing.
For The Netherlands Bas van de Goer struggles in his first tempo connection with Blange, which is very weird to watch and nothing like it would be later. Using a shuffle step from a read position, he also doesn’t challenge the fast ball very well in block. He does have a sequence towards the end of the set where he hits several pipes in a row as the Dutch mount their comeback.
The graphics in the TV coverage are somehow better and more informative than they will be 25 years later.
Somehow the Dutch end up winning the set with Bernardi being blocked twice and making one hitting error from the last four points. Ron Zwerver is the best player for The Netherlands.
Set 2 – The Cantagalli Set
Can you spell ‘shellshocked’? After blowing the first set, the Italians sleep walk to a 0-5 deficit. Bernardi continues where he left off in the first set, and is subbed out for Cantagalli.
Velasco uses a timeout at 0-4 to yell at Tofoli, who answers back without ever making eye contact. The first four points are all transition attacks by Zwerver who is also continuing his form from the first set.
I am always amazed by how bad the blocking is on medium speed balls.
From 0-5 to 5-5 with four points from Cantagalli. He will end the set with 10 points and over 80% in attack.
Bracci attacks every ball with maximum power and makes a couple of big plays (tough sideouts and a key serve).
Giani gets so excited he reaches almost to the 3m to reach a stray ball and somehow captain Gardini finds some reason to complain about the call. Zorzi eventually comes in for Gardini playing the half middle / half opposite role that he played a year earlier in the World Championships.
It is getting a bit chippy. The referee shows three yellows. Bernardi comes from the warmup area to point out an open window or something at the top of the arena and we have a big break while the problem is fixed.
Zwerver hitting pipe is a big transition play for The Netherlands, they run it solely in emergencies.
Blange seems to set in sequences, setting one hot guy at a time which leads to van de Goer only hitting four balls for the set.
Van de Goer still manages the decisive service series from 9-9.
Gardini hits a great ball at 9-12, but sadly there is no video challenge in 1995.
The Netherlands go up 2-1.
Velasco takes timeout at 1-3 and 2-3. It seems something is not quite right. Zorzi is still on in Gardini’s spot and Bovolenta has replaced Gravina. Bernardi is back in place of Bracci in what will turn out to be the second decisive substitution of the match involving him.
At 4-4 van der Meulen misses two high balls for point, and as the set progresses the Dutch get more nervous and tight.
Held throws away the ball at the service line and gets penalised. After an argument, the referee decides the ball needed replacing and changes his mind. The referees are nervous and tight.
Italy lose three quick points to go from 9-5 to 9-8. The Italians are nervous and tight.
In the stands the Greeks haven’t had a cigarette for nearly two hours. The fans are nervous and tight.
At 10-10, Zwerver makes a sideout but is so exhausted he stands at the net with his hands on his knees. Hold that thought.
At 10-11, Gravina serves a short serve. The first of the match, at the 2 hour 36 minute mark. Noone was expecting that.
Zwerver, the dominant player of the match finally cracks. A hitting error then two blocks. Italy win. 2-2.
A la Bernardi two hours ago, Zwerver continues his form into the next set and is subbed out at 1-7.
To get to that point Gravina has three blocks in a row, position 3, position 4, position 2. He has been on, off, then back on again to make a difference.
Same too Bernardi, who dominates the set with six points. The depth of the Italians is really ridiculous. I don’t think there has ever been anything like it.
The Netherlands make something of a comeback, but Pasinato (inexplicably on in place of Giani for the last three points #evenmoredepth #geniuscoaching) scores the last point for 15-10.
The Netherlands will have to wait another year for a big title. I think they are over it, but even then they probably don’t like thinking about this match.
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