ITALY 2002 WORLD CHAMPION
Berlin, Germany, Sept 15 - Italy on Sunday vaulted into the volleyball history books to become 2002 Women's World Champion for the first time ever with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the USA before a capacity crowd of 9,070 in the Max-Schmeling-Halle in the German capital Berlin.
The final was a nail-biting five set thriller where USA took first blood with a 25-18 in the opening set. The Americans took in their stride having star attacker Prikeba Phipps on the bench. Phipps caught a ball in her eye during training on Saturday and sat out the match while captain Tara Cross-Battle replaced her on the court.
Italy was quick to respond to the early American offensive, winning the second and third set comfortably. Traditional American fighting spirit then kicked in and the USA pulled back to take the fourth set and force the tiebreaker.
The two teams shadowboxed their way through the decider and were all square at 9-9. Then Elisa Togut delivered three power attacks to give Italy a three-point advantage. Togut was the finest player on the court during the final.
Again the Americans responded and got back in the match. But it was too little too late and Italy went on to take the title when a spike by Togut gave her team the title. It was their best ever result in Volleyball after placing fifth at the 1998 championship in Japan.
"This victory is a great success," Italian coach Marco Bonitta said. "We were prepared to play against USA with Phipps. When she was not on the court, we had to adjust our game. It took us one set, but then we knew what to do."
The US head Coach also played tribute to the Italian team.
"Italy is the right World Champion," the US head coach Toshiaki Yoshida said. "They deserved to win, because the team is well balanced and has good players on all positions. We kept fighting and I am proud that my team came so far," Yoshida said.
Neither team had ever made it through to a World Championship final before and neither was among the pre-tournament favorites.
It came as no surprise that Togut was named "Most Valuable Player" of the 2002 Women's World Championship and she was also best scorer with 32 points. She also closed out four of Italy's last six points. American Tayyeba Haneef was the best scorer for the USA with 21 points.
On Saturday, Russia grabbed the bronze medal after defeating China (3-1).
Earlier on Sunday Cuba and Korea played off for fifth and sixth place with the young Cuban side emerging victorious to close off what has been for this new generation of Cuban players, a creditable World Championship.
Cuban Yumilka Ruiz was overall best scorer with 217 points. Russian Elizaveta Tichtchenko was the best attacker, while US Daniella Scott was nominated as the best blocker. The 16-years old Cuban Nancy Carrilo was the tournament's best server. The Korean libero Ki-Lan Koo won two individual awards as best receiver and best digger. Brazilian Marcelle Rodriguez was the best setter of the event. The Italian libero Paula Cardulo received the Credit Suisse Fair Play Award.
The 2002 Men's World Championship will start on Saturday 28 September in Argentina, when the 24 best men's teams in the world fight for the World Title. The final of the men's event is scheduled for Sunday 13 October in Buenos Aires.
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