Volleyball: Team GB women brushed aside as Italy ease to victory

 

Great Britain's women were unable to back-up their historic Olympic win over Algeria by beating Italy today, with the World Cup champions proving that experience and pedigree can be far more valuable than enthusiasm.

Less than 48 hours after Britain's first-ever Games win - which was finally confirmed after midnight - Italy took a whitewash victory away with them and, in the process, gave a stark reminder of the task the host nation have taken on.

Ranked 69 in the world, they are 53 places lower than anyone else they will face and have embarked on an arduous journey, as evidence by their encounter with the number-four ranked Italians.

However, with boundless energy and some occasionally dangerous combinations in their arsenal, they pushed their illustrious opponents all the way in the opening set and, in truth, had never targeted this game as one they could win.

Their Friday date with the Dominican Republic is of greater importance and if they take that - which their first-set performance today nods towards - then a previously improbable quarter-final berth is likely.

With barely a seat empty inside Earls Court, anticipation was naturally high in the wake of Monday's heroics and Britain started as if the momentum was still with them.

That they trailed 7-3 at the first time-out was a poor reflection as they should really have taken three of the points that went against them.

Italy managed to stay in control without exerting themselves too much, despite Ciara Michel and Janine Sandell finding the floor at the net. Behind their success was their brilliant libero Paola Croce, whose incredible agility ensured that a ball was very rarely dead.

But Britain refused to give up, with Grace Carter's kill, Sandell's unreturned serve and a rare miss from Antonella del Core getting them from 15-20 to 19-21. Italy called a panicked time-out but on the back of it a Rachel Laybourne block to 21-22 had the crowd on their feet.

The atmosphere reached fever pitch when a double Italy touch levelled it up, and it was point-for-point through to 25-25 when, after taking set point, Italy took it 27-25 when Lynne Beattie was shut down at the net.

There was a thought, though, that despite going so close, losing the opener had robbed Britain of their best chance of getting anything from the match and so it would prove going into the second set.

Italy were 6-1 up at the first time-out, Sandell getting snuffed out at the net and, with Carter off injured after colliding with Michel, coach Audrey Cooper was desperately lacking firepower.

But her replacements stepped up, with teenager Savannah Leaf and the previously-unused Lizzie Reid winning points. However, any chances the hosts had of repeating their first-set fightback were resoundingly extinguished when Italy won seven straight points on the serve of del Core.

Any lead above three is notoriously difficult to haul back and, at 8-19, GB could do little more than see out the set as painlessly as they could, eventually conceding it 12-25.

What they would consider normal service resumed at the start of the third, with some brilliant defence from libero Maria Bertelli keeping them in touch at 6-8 but, with the likes of Valentina Arrighetti chiming in to join del Core in the front row, Italy always held the upper hand.

Britain's will remained but unfortunately for them their execution did not. They were unable to find their hitters and, with Italy packing size at the front and back of the court, they eased away to a 25-12 win when Rachel Bragg was closed down at the net.

PA

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