STREAK STOPPERS | Italy hands Japan 1st loss in VNL '23

Italy finally solved Japan's VNL puzzle. Cesca Rampas
By John Rhey Piamonte

PASAY—Leaning on Yuri Romaño's stellar performance, Italy ended Japan's 10-game winning streak after a masterful 29-27, 28-26, 23-25, 25-20 victory in the 2023 Volleyball Nations League (VNL) Pasay leg inside the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena, Saturday. 

Romaño delivered in the clutch as he put the Gli Azzurri's in his back, nailing a game-high 22 points, 16 coming from kills, three blocks, and three aces in the much-anticipated match-up of Week 3.

Both teams came out swinging right off the gate, with Yuji Nishida spearheading the league leaders to a 26-27 lead after an insane off-the-block hit in the game opener. 

But an error from Japan followed with a service ace by Romaño led to a 28-27 reversal for Italy. 

Outside hitter Daniele Lavia scored a block point that later on propelled Italy to a 29-27 first set win. 

"It was a great match and we played really well. It was a good win for us, the best win so far. We improved a lot during this game," Romaño said on the post-game conference.

With their back against the wall on a 21-24 set 2 disadvantage, Italy dropped a pivotal 4-0 bomb capped by a superb off-the-block spike from Tommaso Rinaldi for a 25-24 turnaround. 

The 21-year-old Rinaldi owned the limelight in the second salvo as he also hammered the set-clinching kill, 28-26.

Lavia chipped in 18 markers while Rinaldi added five crucial points all in the second for Italy. 

The power duo of Nishida and team captain Yuki Ishikawa kept Japan afloat in the third, combining for nine attacks to force a set 4, 23-25. 

Nishida had his best scoring game in Pool 6 as he tallied a 20-point outing. Ishikawa topped Japan with 21 across his name. 

World no. 4 Italy rode on its defense in the closer highlighted by middle blocker Gianluca Galassi's rejection that sent Japan packing. 

The Azzuri swept the final leg of the preliminary phase to climb to a 9-3 slate while Japan will look to bounce back on its last game of the elims on Sunday against the other streaking team in Pasay, Poland.

Follow him on Twitter: @rhey_piamonte