Egonu's offensive power helped Italy come from behind to defeat Serbia

All it took for Paola Egonu to start making an impact on the Volleyball Nations League 2022 was one set.

After a discrete performance in the opening set of the duel between Italy and Serbia, which marked her first appearance in the tournament, the 23-year-old opposite led the Italian comeback, which ended in a four-set (21-25, 25-14, 25-15, 25-20) victory for the reigning European champions in Brasilia, Brazil, on Tuesday.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Egonu didn’t spare her longtime coach at Prosecco Doc Imoco Volley Conegliano Daniele Santarelli, who was put in charge of the Serbian national team ahead of the 2022 international season, tallying 23 points (19 kills, two blocks, two aces) in her first VNL match.

The opposite started to get into a rhythm in the second set, especially after she blocked Serbian outside hitter Katarina Lazovic to score 2-2. That point got her offence going too, and a few plays later she spiked to score 13-8.

In the third set, the Italian opposite flew from the backcourt to spike and score 19-11, putting her team in a good position to win the frame. The highlight of her fourth-set performance was a quick hit behind setter Ofelia Malinov’s back to score 9-6.

Paola Egonu Points (Italy vs. Serbia)

The Italians outscored the Serbians by wide margins in blocks (14-8) and aces (8-2) thanks to middle blocker Anna Danesi and Malinov adding three blocks each and outside hitter Caterina Bosetti firing four aces. Outside hitter Alice Degradi was another highly productive player in the match, leaving the court with 16 points (14 kills, two blocks).

“The first set was difficult, but we did a good job in terms of staying in the game,” said Italian captain Danesi. “It had been a long time since we had all played together for the last time, so the first set was a little weird and even a little bit emotional. I think that more than any tactical adjustments, the key for us was getting comfortable with each other on the court again.”

On the Serbian side, opposite and team captain Ana Bjelica, with 17 points (16 kills, one block), and Lazovic, with 13 (ten kills, two blocks, one ace), were the top scorers.

The rivalry between Italy and Serbia has grown significantly over the last few years after the teams met in critical moments of important international tournaments, most notably the gold medal match of the 2018 FIVB World Championship and the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics, which both saw the Serbians come out on top. The final of last year’s European Championship, however, saw the Italians triumph.

“Every time we play them, it’s special for us,” Dannesi added. “We lost some important matches to them in the past, but they have some new players now, which makes things a little different. I’m just happy that we had a good start in the second week of the VNL.”

After securing three wins in their first five VNL matches, Italy will be back on the court on Thursday, at 18.00 local time (21.00 GMT), to face the Dominican Republic.