Ninety-eight down, two to go! Three weeks after the start of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022 and 98 matches into the competition, the event reaches its climax on Saturday with two encounters to decide the winners of gold, silver and bronze.

Italy and the United States will lock horns for bronze at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT). The gold medal match between Brazil and Serbia will follow at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT), with both games to be played at the Omnisport in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn.

· Watch all FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Defending champions Serbia will make a second consecutive appearance in a final after winning the title at their first appearance four years ago. They will add a third medal to their World Championship collection, which also includes a bronze they claimed as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.

On the other hand, their opponents Brazil have never climbed all the way to the top of a World Championship podium and it would be a historic success for them, if they beat Serbia on Saturday. They have, however, picked up as many as four medals in the history of the tournament. The South Americans took silver back in 1994 and then medalled at three of the four most recent editions, with silver in 2006 and 2010, and bronze in 2014.

Brazil and Serbia have played each other 21 times at major world-level competitions since the southern European nation started competing as a separate country. The South Americans lead the head-to-head series by an impressive 18 wins against only three for the Serbians. Earlier this year, the two sides met twice in the Volleyball Nations League. In the Preliminary Phase, Brazil won in straight sets at home. Serbia took the first set of their semifinal encounter in Ankara, only to lose the next three to their opponents. Brazil also defeated Serbia in four sets when they met in the pool phase of last year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In fact, the last time the European team claimed a victory over the South Americans was at the previous World Championship in 2018, an emphatic shutout during the first pool phase of the tournament.

The Serbians have not lost a single match since the start of this year's competition. They lost only two sets (to Bulgaria) during pool play. Then they lost another two to hosts Poland in the quarterfinals, and a set to reigning Olympic champions USA in the semifinals. After losing to Japan in the first pool phase of the World Championship, Brazil finished third in Pool D on a 4-1 win-loss record, but then went through the second pool phase undefeated to improve to 8-1 and finish Pool E runners-up to Italy. In the quarterfinals, they mastered an amazing comeback from two sets down to get back at Japan with a 3-2 victory, and in the semifinals, they outplayed the Italians on the way to a four-set win.

Serbia will, of course, rely on their 25-year-old star opposite and captain Tijana Boskovic to lead their team to success against Brazil on Saturday, just like she did four years ago in the World Championship final against Italy, when she earned the Most Valuable Player award. Boskovic is currently fourth among the best scorers of the tournament, with a total of 216 points (8 aces, 13 blocks, 195 spikes), or 11 clear of fifth-placed Gabriela Guimaraes, the 28-year-old outside hitter and captain of Brazil. Gabi has tallied eight aces, six stuffs and 191 successful attacks so far in the competition. She also leads the best receivers’ chart and is second in the best diggers’ ranking.

The South American squad also features middle Ana Carolina Da Silva, by far the best blocker of the tournament so far with as many as 57 stuffs to her name, almost twice Serbia’s best blocker Jovana Stevanovic’s tally of 29. The gold medal match will also feature a clash between two world-class setters, Macris Carneiro of Brazil and Bojana Drca of Serbia. While the fans can enjoy an array of top-calibre individual players on both sides of the net, it is their teamwork on the court that will most likely decide the winner.

The bronze medal match will also offer a titanic clash between two powerful teams. The Olympic champions from the United States are targeting their sixth World Championship medal. Eight years ago, they triumphed as champions to add to their hardware collection of two silver medals in 1967 and 2002 and two bronze medals in 1982 and 1990. Italy arrived at the competition as reigning European champions and gold medallists of this year’s VNL. If they win the bronze on Saturday, their showcase will boast a full set of World Championship medals, including a 2002 gold and a 2018 silver.


USA’s Chiaka Ogbogu in attack

It will be the 41st meeting between the two teams at a major world-level competition. USA have won 22 and Italy have claimed 18 of the previous 40 encounters. Their last match, in the pool phase of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, lasted five sets and the Americans took the upper hand on their way to the title. Italy achieved their most recent victory over the United States at the previous edition of the World Championship, when they defeated the Americans in four sets during the second pool stage of the tournament on the way to the final.

In the first pool phase of this World Championship, Italy topped Pool A unbeaten after losing only two sets along the way (to Belgium and the Netherlands). They started the second phase with a five-set defeat at the hands of Brazil, but then recovered with three consecutive wins to top the final Pool E standings on an 8-1 win-loss record. In the quarterfinals, Italy beat China by 3-1, and in the semifinals, they lost to Brazil again, this time in four sets. USA, on the other hand, lost twice to the other finalists Serbia, once in straight sets in a Pool C match to finish pool runners-up, and once in four sets in the semifinals. They suffered their only other defeat at the hands of hosts Poland during the second stage, when they finished second in Pool F to advance to a quarterfinal encounter with Türkiye, which they won in three sets.


High-flying Paola Egonu

23-year-old Italian opposite Paola Egonu will undoubtedly be a key player on the court in Saturday’s bronze medal match. Arguably the best player in the world right now, she is the top scorer of the tournament so far on a total 250 points and the top attacker on 224 spiking points. Her tally also includes 19 kill blocks and seven aces. Three more individual charts are led by Italian athletes. Playmaker Alessia Orro has been the best setter of the competition so far, libero Monica De Gennaro tops the best diggers’ ranking and outside Caterina Bosetti has scored the most aces.

In fact, the fans can expect an ace race during the third place match as all of the three best servers of the tournament will be on the court. Bosetti’s 17 aces are matched by US opposite Andrea Drews, also with 17. American Jordyn Poulter comes next down the chart with 14. In their playmaking duties, Poulter and teammate Lauren Carlini have been able to spread the offensive efforts more evenly among their spikers, with Alexandra Frantti, Drews and captain Kelsey Robinson producing 109, 105 and 97 kills, respectively.