Montreux, Switzerland, June 11, 2017- Olympic gold medallists and deposed Montreux Masters champions China rounded off their campaign by securing the bronze medal in a 3-1 (25-21, 25-12, 20-25, 25-19) win over Argentina, thus avenging their loss to the South Americans in the pool phase.
It was a clash between two teams who already knew a great deal about each other, the Argentines having come out on top in a five-set thriller against China on their way to winning Pool A. Through long periods of that game, the two seemed inseparable, and this bronze medal showdown began with a similar feel, both teams jostling for superiority, Paula Nizetich, Lucia Fresco and Emilce Sosa, who have enjoyed fine tournaments, looking dangerous for the Argentines, whilst Qian Jingwen, Gong Xiangyu and Diao Linyu were razor sharp for China. Both sides were 15-15 following opening exchanges which yielded a wonderful spiking show from both sides. The pendulum of momentum continued to swing back and forth in a pulsating opening set, before a mix-up in the Argentine half gifted China an 18-20 lead. Gong Xiangyu’s spiking was once more causing Argentina trouble, but crucially, China were getting the block right at key times. Wang Yuanyuan was able to foil Sosa with a perfectly executed block that fell at the net in the Argentine half to take China to 20-23; cue Gong Xiangyu rising to hit another excellent spike to see China poised to take the set. Argentina secured the next point to serve, but Sosa’s delivery struck the net and handed China a 21-25 first set win, the bronze medal one step toward Beijing after a fine first set performance from the Chinese.
Everything that lacked against the Brazilians on Saturday night was on show in the battle for bronze, and the Chinese began the second set as they ended the first, flying into a two point lead. But Argentina, whose resolve had been made clear already this tournament, rallied back with a Nizetich spike and a wonderfully executed intervention at the net to foil the Chinese block. Argentina began to make their mark on the game, Sol Piccolo hitting a wonderful spike before Wang Yuanyuan struck one of her own into the corner to help China reclaim the lead. The Asians still looked the sharper, and Gao Yi was alert to make a vital block, Argentina stationary as China eased to a three point lead at 11-14. Gao was on hand to put in another block to extend the lead, and she made it a hat-trick of blocks in consecutive rallies, foiling the Argentine spike with another excellent intervention. Argentina’s campaign was crumbling, China in cruise control at 11-17, and there’d be no respite after the time-out. Gao, enjoying a fine set, showed off the attacking side of her game with a well-worked spike into the corner, China soaring toward a set win at 12-20. Their defence looked impregnable at times in the set, some heart-stopping rallies on show for the raucous Montreux crowd as both teams scrapped for the points. Gao’s spike put China at set point after a stunning rally, before Wang Huimin duly obliged to caress the ball onto the surface. China secured the set at 12-25, a podium finish in their sights.
Keen to kill the game, China began the third set in equally fierce fashion, the excellent Wang Yuanyuan with a deadly spike. A big block from Lucia Fresco signalled the start of Argentine pressure, Nizetich’s spike in the next rally to hot for the Chinese block to handle as they aimed to swing the tide. An ace from the following serve gave Argentina a two-point advantage, before Qian Jingwen, Gong Xiangyu and Gao Yi helped China battle back in a string of enthralling rallies. It was a topsy-turvy, humdinger of an affair in the third, Argentina edging in front with a four point advantage. Sensing a route back into the game, Argentina increased their lead to 19-13, before an exchange of points cued up Nizetich to put Las Panteras within a point of the set. A mix-up in the China half secured it for Argentina at 20-25, the game far from over and Destination Beijing for the bronze firmly on hold.
The fourth set started swiftly, China looking for the finish and Argentina vying for parity. It was the latter who snuck ahead at 8-7 after some wonderful play from Sosa, but Liu Xiaotong hit two points in successive plays to level the set. Nizetich and Elina Rodríguez were proving a thorn in China’s side, the former with a powerful spike that snuck inside the line to keep Argentina a point ahead. Not to be outdone and determined to seal the game after an impressive performance, China upped the ante; Zheng Yixin the influential figure in the round, her six points helping China into an 18-20 lead when Argentina looked at their most assured. China remarkably rallied their way to match point at 24-19, before Morena Martínez-Franchi’s serve fell short to hand China the bronze medal. A fine end to China’s campaign, whilst Argentina can depart with their heads held high, securing fourth place in their first ever Montreux Masters.