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27/07/2017 11:15
Strength in depth the key for D’Aniello’s Italy
2017 CEV U16 Volleyball European Championship - Women

Sofia, Bulgaria, July 27, 2017. Pasquale D’Aniello’s Azzurrine have enjoyed a fine campaign at #EuroVolleyU16W thus far. Drawn into Pool I in Sofia, the Italians have excelled against all they have come up against, winning all five of their matches and progressing with a 100% record, conceding a mere set in the process. What is fascinating though is that whereas the other semi-finalists boast a leading scorer in amongst the best of the tournament, the Italians have progressed without such a commodity.

The statistic may baffle the untrained eye in Volleyball, but there is reason behind this. Their leading markswoman, Emma Cagnin, has notched a modest total of 54 points over five games, compared to the 181-point leading scorer of the tournament Kseniya Liabiodkina of Belarus. However, if one is to read between the lines, this is in fact more of a testament to their ruthless efficiency. If one plays less sets, one is bound to be scoring less points, and so it proves the case, Cagnin notching her tournament tally over just 14 sets she has played in compared to Liabiodkina who has featured in 35 sets for her nation.

Individual talent does, of course, have a role to play, but these statistics are, quite fittingly, reflective of an Italy outfit that appears to focus not on star individuals but champions a strong team philosophy and goes into each game operating as a unit regardless which players are on the court. It was the strength in depth of the Italian side which head coach D’Aniello hailed following his team’s latest win, a 3-0 humbling of Greece to wrap up the pool campaign with five wins from five; a game in which he rested some of his regular players and gave some of the back-up brigade some valuable game-time.

“I am very happy that we finished the group with five wins,” D’Aniello said following the Greece game. “But I am very happy also with some of my other players, who didn’t get so much playing time over the first four matches. I was very happy with our second-choice setter Laura Pasquino, but it was generally very important to have everyone in the team playing in this final game. This is why we must take matches like this seriously. It is important to get the win to maintain our momentum in the competition and go to the semi-finals with confidence, but most importantly is the lesser players get games. In later, harder matches, we will find ourselves in tougher battles and tougher situations, and all my players need to be ready and in their best form for when we call upon them. A time will come when we will need them, so a game like this against Greece was a good test for them.”

Another player who had an extended run on court against the Greeks was the Azzurrine’s second-choice libero Sophie Andrea Blasi, who was rotated in and out of the game as first-choice libero Francesca Magazza played only at intervals due to a stomach complaint before the match, D’Aniello revealed after the match. However, the head coach paid tribute to both their performances.

“Blasi played very well. And as for Francesca (Magazza), it was both brave and admirable of her to want to play through her illness. We will look after her and monitor her over the next day to have her fit for the semi-final, but I’m pleased to reach the semi-final with my team in a good place. All players are in great condition and playing well, and this will be very important in the semi-finals since we will have 12 strong players to call upon and use in these games. This gives us the chance to play our games to the highest level we can as a team.”

It is not just sheer weight in numbers that is also helping this young generation of up and coming Italian players, but the fact that with every game they are improving even though they had already gotten off to a winning start. Francesca Magazza is just one of D’Aniello’s players who has enjoyed the group phase, but even she conceded that the only unbeaten outfit left at the tournament does not always play perfect matches.

“We have had some problems in certain moments, but we get through these tests with the help of our coaches and with the help of each other,” she said after the match with Greece. “Every day we are improving, and the fact we are playing better gives us a lot of confidence for the semi-finals. We are feeling stronger and stronger and we are very hopeful we can reach our goal by making it to the final.”

Probably their most remarkable result in Sofia so far was their penultimate match in the group, a blistering display against fellow Pool I titans the Netherlands, which Italy won 3-0 to seal their place in the last four with one game to spare. Loveth Oghosasere Omoruyi, who has been one of D’Aniello’s star performers so far at the tournament, spoke after the game, and she is another who has faith in her team’s ability to not only negotiate difficult ties, but to learn lessons even from hard-fought victories and improve going forward.

“Against the Netherlands we were very good in attack and defence,” she said. “But for us there is always room to improve and that is what our coach tells us. As a team, we are learning to play better with each other as we gain more collective experience, and now we look forward to the semi-finals.”

With the mastermind behind the Italian hunt for glory, Pasquale D’Aniello, also very much a firm believer in the fact that his team are yet to put in their best display in Sofia, spectators and Volleyball fans around the world following the tournament can only sit back and watch in anticipation for what this Italian team can produce next. Regardless how far they go at this tournament, there is every indication that a promising future beckons for this Azzurrine team and its players.

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