Seoul, South Korea, June 17, 2018 - Australian completed a clean sweep of their fourth-round matches in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Sunday, with Thomas Hodges' 20 points leading them to a surprise 3-1 (27-25, 18-25, 25-19, 25-23) victory over Italy.
It had looked on paper the most testing match for the Aussies in this round - given Italy are among the teams vying for qualification for the VNL finals - but they proved more than capable of the task with opposite spiker Hodges' contributing 17 kills and two blocks in his tally.
Australian wing spiker Luke Smith was also in fine form with 13 points for the victors. It was only the second win for Australia over Italy in 17 world level matches, dating back to the 2015 FIVB World League.
Just where the loss leaves Italy remains to be seen. They were no doubt looking for a clean sweep of their own as pre-match they sat ranked sixth in the VNL - and six team qualify for the finals. Instead they leave South Korea after a 2-1 run.
Once again it was wing spiker Gabriele Maruotti who stood tall for the Italians - as he had in their fourth-round wins over China and South Korea. His 16 points were backed up by opposite spiker Gabriele Nelli with 13 points - but there is little doubt that coming it this was a match the Italians would have been confident of victory.
The Aussies' win came without an input from their most dominant player during the trip to South Korea, with skipper Paul Carroll - who contributed 21 and 31 points in their wins over the hosts and China - benched for a well-deserved rest and only making a cameo appearance in the final set.
As the VNL moves towards what looks to be a thrilling last round of action before the finals, the Italians will certainly have earned their place should they make it through to the last six. They head home to Modena for the fifth round, which starts on June 22, but have a super tough draw ahead of them in France, USA and Russia- who were sitting 1-2-3 in the rankings as the Italians prepared to leave South Korea on Sunday night.
There's a home trip ahead also for the Australians (to Melbourne) where they'll line up against Brazil, Argentina and Poland.