The 23-year-old opposite comes up big for the defending champions with 25 points in their debut in Antalya
Defending Volleyball Nations League champions Italy were pushed to their limits in their debut in the 2023 edition of the tournament, but fought hard to secure a five-set victory over Thailand on Tuesday, in Antalya, Türkiye, and start their title defense on the right foot.
The second-best team in the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Ranking, Italy were strongly challenged by the recently-crowned Southeast Asian Games champions, but were better in the decisive moments and counted on a stellar performance from opposite Sylvia Nwakalor to win their Pool 1 encounter in the tie-breaker (24-26, 25-17, 27-29, 30-28, 15-11) at the Antalya Sports Hall.
One of just three players who were in the squad that played in last year’s VNL gold medal match to be a part of the Italian roster in their 2023 debut, the 23-year-old Nwakalor carried the Italian offense against Thailand, producing impressive 25 points. The opposite was not only lethal offensively, with 19 kills, but also tallied a match-high five blocks to go with one ace.
Outside hitter Loveth Omoruyi, 20, also had a strong performance against the Asians, contributing with 22 points (16 kills, four blocks, two aces) for the Italian victory.
“The most important thing today was to remain confident and don’t lose patience because we knew Thailand were very good on defense,” Omoruyi said after the match. “It was very important for us to not relax and to keep fighting. This was a very important match for us, so we knew we had to give everything to overcome their defense. We knew that if we lost focus for just a little bit, the match could be over for us.
“We’re happy with our debut, but we know we can still play much better and hopefully we can build from this performance.”
The Italians overcame the Thai in the decisive moments of their opening match in Antalya
Middle blocker Anna Danesi, who registered 12 points (nine kills, three blocks), and outside hitter Alice Degradi, who added another ten (seven kills, one block, two aces), were the other Italian players to produce in double digits in the team’s debut.
On the Thai side, opposite Pimpichaya Kokram played a fantastic match, leaving the court with 23 points (21 kills, one block, one ace). Besides her, outside hitters Chatchu-On Moskri and Ajcharaporn Kongyot, who left the match at the end of the fourth set with an apparent calf injury, fired 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Pimpichaya played a fantastic match, but her efforts weren’t enough to give Thailand the win
Blocking was the main difference between the teams, with the Italians getting 17 stops to seven of the Thai. The Europeans, who avoided multiple Thai match points on set four, also got more kills (71 to 68) and aces (seven to two), but generated more points for their opponents from errors (34 to 27).
The comeback helped Italy secure their fifth-straight victory over the Asians, who have last triumphed during the 2019 Montreux Volley Masters. Considering just FIVB-sanctioned events, the most recent Thai victory dates back to the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix.
The Italians will be back on the court in Antalya on Thursday, when they face European rivals Poland, at 17:00 local time (14:00 UTC). Three hours earlier on the same day, Thailand will meet Canada in their second match in Pool 1.
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