After Sweden provided one of the biggest sudden-death upsets of the tournament so far, a win for Italy against the Dutch would see them top the division above the USA. On the other side of the field were the Netherlands, who, after having been unable to beat Sweden, were hoping to claim victory against Italy, and potentially take third place in the pool.
The Italians came out looking to exploit their powerful long game, and the Netherlands were having a tough time stopping them from doing so in the first half of the game. The Italians gained the first break early in the game. The Netherlands set up well but the Italian force was pressuring the Dutch into the crosswind, and a simple pass to the under cut curled away from a diving Eelke van Foeken. But both the Italians and the Netherlands turned the disc one after the other on quick long shots. With a second chance gifted to the Italians, Davide Morri took control, calling a play as he walks the disc up to his end zone line. The stack split and he let rip a full-field length sidearm straight down the middle of the pitch to meet Christian Kouame streaking into the end zone, bringing the score to ITA 2-1 NED.
The Netherlands pushed back. They worked the disc up the pitch, but, as they got close to the end zone, they sent in a speculative throw that curved away from its intended receiver. Thankfully, van Foekan was backing up and the score was levelled at 3-3. Italy was able to pull away with the next two points – Morri baited the long throw to a static receiver in the end zone, and repeated the process with another pitch length huck that fell perfectly into the hands of Franceschi Alessandro. It earned Italy their second break, making the score ITA 5-3 NED.
Netherlands pushed back again, as the game started to get more physical. The Italian D was keen to not let their advantage slip this time round and play was stalled by a call of “fast count”. Dutch player Jon Stolzfus is unfazed by the high stall, though, and resets the disc to Justine van der Meulen. She throws long to Rogier Postma, who sees out the point. ITA 5 – 4 NED.
As the Netherlands wised up to the Italian long game, van Foekan poached intelligently, quickly diving to intercept an I/O into the middle of the field. But the Dutch wasted possession and had another huck swallowed up a guy/girl mismatch in the end zone, allowing the Italian handlers Fabio Galli and Francini Tommaso to reorganise. They worked quickly together, breaking both through the middle and up the line.
With the Italians now up 7-4, they opted for a zone after the Netherlands called for three women on the line. This worked to their advantage in the sense that it slowed the Dutch down and ate up the clock, but it didn’t stop them scoring. The Netherlands worked it up and Italy were forced to drop to person defence. The forces were strong and the Netherlands were not even attempting to break. As the point dragged on towards the seventh minute, the defence tired and the Dutch squeezed a score on the open side. At this point the diminishing advantage was starting to visibly frustrate the Italians, particularly Morri, who began fuming on the sideline with his team not meeting the high expectations he had of their performance coming into the game.
Morri lamented making a mistake on a crucial offensive point against the States that could have sent the game their way. As such, they reorganised and prepared well to beat Sweden, recognising that whilst their D line was strong, the team had to up their offence and make the conversions. Consequently, in this game he was frustrated:
“We had a chance to break six times and we only did it three. Normally we are more patient and swing.”
This tension translated onto the field during the longest point of the game, verging on ten minutes, which paused to resolve two calls made by the Dutch. The Italians were playing with physicality and didn’t see the problem; the calls were just a consequence of playing in a high gear. They had a lot to prove and knew what a win meant. Regardless, the Dutch remained calm and took the point.
With the cap on, the Italians needed just one more point to see themselves top the pool. They finished as they began, executing their long game, and it was spectacular. Fabio Galli sent up yet another flat sidearm across the length of the pitch to a huddle of players in the endzone. The second or two that the disc hung in the air was like the calm before the storm. Laura Fantinato then rose up above her own mark, just as Tomasso rose above his, but Fantinato misses it by a whisker. She turned immediately and tracked it down, laying out at full extension to bring home the win. The Italians erupted and rushed the field, knowing that they had superseded USA at the top of the pool.
Now Italy looks forward to the rest of the tournament and the knockout stages, Morri thinks his team are more than capable of a high finish:
“I think we deserve it [the top seed in the pool]. The States have still not entered the tournament. And for me now, they can’t play 70% against the underdog anymore. Every team has a secret style.”
And when it comes to style, Italy normally does come out on top…
By Charlie Blair.