Lausanne, Switzerland, May 6, 2016 – Twelve teams will compete in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 1 in 2016 hoping to qualify for the Group 1 Finals in Bangkok, Thailand from July 6 to 10. As the competition draws near we feature Italy in the eighth of a 12-part series.
Italy – Searching for World Grand Prix gold
In Italy’s 17 appearances in the World Grand Prix, they have managed to win a total of six medals. They first appeared in 1994 with an eighth place finish but missed out on the two succeeding editions before they improved their position to sixth place in 1997.
The European team competed in four consecutive editions from 1997 to 2000, breaking through the final four in one occasion when they finished fourth in 1999. At the turn of the millennium, Italy had a good run at the World Grand Prix, winning silver medals in 2004 and 2005 and bronze medals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, along with greater achievements in other tournaments.
Italy’s first big conquest came in 2002, when they won the World Championship title in Germany. They became the first team to break the dominance of powerhouses Russia, China, Cuba and Japan. Since then, Italy had a steady rise and conquered back-to-back titles in the World Cup in 2007 and 2011, with an impressive win-record of 21 victories in 22 matches.
The Italians also won the European Championship in 2007 and 2009, the latter edition being their ticket to the World Grand Champions Cup, which they likewise dominated on that same year.
Italy have experienced a drop in their performance in the last four years with 2015 World Grand Prix’s fifth being preceded by finishes of 10th in 2012, fifth in 2013 and ninth in 2012.
Last year, they recorded six victories in their nine matches in the preliminary round, but only logged two victories in the Final Six. Italy lost their first two matches in the Final Six against Russia and eventual winners USA, but bounced back in the next two by defeating China 3-2 (25-15, 22-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-12) and Japan in a nerve-wracking match 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 28-30, 26-24, 24-22), before they bowed out of the competition in their match-up with Brazil 3-1 (25-18, 25-27, 30-25, 25-18).
The Italian squad are on the hunt this season for leverage to get their first-ever World Grand Prix gold medal. Before this, the team will focus on another big competition, the World Olympic Qualification Tournament, which will give them an opportunity to gain their fifth Olympic appearance.
Their future lies in the hands of Marco Bonitta, who returned as coach in March 2014. Bonitta started Italy’s good run when he led the team to earn their first World Championship title. His meticulous coaching style may just be the answer for another resurgence that will finally bring them the gold in the World Grand Prix.
Player to watch – Valentina Diouf
Italy’s 2016 campaign seems bright as their star Valentina Diouf will get more support, with the entry of up-and-coming players Paola Egonu and Miriam Fatime Sylla, and the return of their seasoned veterans Francesca Piccinini, Serena Ortolani and Nadia Centoni.
Diouf made an impressive debut in the World Grand Prix in 2013, along with current big names Zhu Ting of China and Brankica Mihajlovic of Serbia. Since then, Diouf has been the face of the team and their leader on offence.
The 23-year-old opposite was born in Milan. She began playing volleyball at a young age and was part of the Italy’s developmental programme Club Italia from 2008 to 2011. Her stints at the youth and junior levels produced a bronze in the European Youth Championship in 2009, and gold medals in the 2010 European Junior Championship and the 2011 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U20 World Championship in Peru.
At club level, Diouf has won an Italian Super Cup with Volley Bergamo in 2011. She stayed with Volley Bergamo until 2014 then moved to Busto Arsizio in the 2014/15 season. Busto Arsizio picked-up runners-up trophies in the Italian Cup then in the CEV Champions League, where Diouf was voted as Best Opposite Spiker. She currently plays for LJ Volley Modena.