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Romanò produced 34 points across matches against the Netherlands and Bulgaria (Photo: FIPAV)

Less than two weeks away from their debut in the Volleyball Nations League 2023, reigning world champions Italy had an important step in their preparation over the last two days, hosting a friendly tournament in Cavalese.

The Italians welcomed European rivals the Netherlands and Bulgaria in their homecourt and displayed strength, overcoming both opponents with a very young and inexperienced roster, that still didn’t feature the country’s top players.

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Head coach Ferdinando de Giorgi had five world champions available for selection in the tournament with libero Fabio Balaso, opposite Yuri Romanò, middle blocker Leandro Mosca and outside hitters Francesco Recine and Mattia Bottolo all being part of the roster.

Romanò was on fire in Wednesday’s match against the Netherlands, registering a match-high 17 points in the Italian four-set (25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 25-17) victory. Recine was the team’s second-best scorer with 14 points, followed by Bottolo, who produced nine.

Without team captain and star opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz, the Dutch team got 11 points from opposite Stijn Van Tilburg, nine from middle blocker Siebe Korenblek and eight from outside hitter Marteen Van Garderen.

On Thursday, the Italians secured the title of the friendly tournament with another four-set (23-25, 25-21, 25-21, 26-24) victory, this time against Bulgaria. Romanò was once again the Italian leading scorer with another 17 points, followed by outside hitter Tommaso Rinaldi and middle blocker Lorenzo Cortesia with 13 each and Bottolo, with 12. Bulgarian opposite Dimitar Dimitrov led all scorers with 21 points.

“It was great to have these tests against teams that could create difficulties for us,” De Giorgi analysed. “We will need our entire squad in the VNL because it’s a long tournament and this is the group that will start in the first week. Some players will be back for the second week, but everyone will have an opportunity. It’s very important to win matches in the VNL because of the ranking points and getting these two matches was important to break the ice for the new guys too.”

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Balaso was one of five world champions to take part in the friendly tournament (Photo: FIPAV)

In the tournament’s opening match, on Tuesday, the Bulgarians overcame the Dutch also in four sets (25-21, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21). Bulgarian outside hitter Asparuh Asparuhov and Van Garderen tied for the most points in the match, leaving the court with 23 each.

In the opening week of the VNL, Italy and the Netherlands will be in Ottawa, Canada, where they will compete in Pool 1 while Bulgaria will be a part of Pool 2, which will be held in Nagoya, Japan.

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