The chances of the South Korean women’s volleyball team traveling to Paris under head coach Cesar Hernandez are looking increasingly slim.

South Korea lost 0-3 (11-25, 20-25, 17-25) to Italy in the first match of Group C of the Paris 2024 Olympic Qualification Tournament at the 토토사이트 Atlas Arena in Łódź, Poland, early Sunday morning (KST).

It was a battle between Italy, ranked No. 5 in the FIVB world, and Korea, ranked No. 36. Italy won the height and firepower battle. In particular, Korea struggled with the iron wall blocking of 2003-born 202-centimeter outside hitter Ekaterina Antropova and 1996-born 196-centimeter middle blocker Anna Danesi. Setter Francesca Bosio was also able to mix and match her offensive resources. In addition to Danesi, she also utilized Marina Rubian, a 195-centimeter middle blocker born in 2000.

Italy was without some of the mainstays of the national team, such as Paola Egonu and Alessia Oro, so the team had to rely on players with consistent international experience.

Antropova and Pietrini led the way with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Miriam Scilla and Danesi also scored in double figures.

South Korea used Kwon Min-ji as an opposite hitter after Lee Sun-woo was a late addition to the squad. Setter Kim Dain, outside hitters Park Jung-ah and Kang So-hwi, middle blockers Jung Ho-young and Lee Ju-ah, and libero Moon Jung-won started. Kim Ji-won and Lee Han-bi came off the bench. Kang So-hwi was the top scorer for South Korea. He scored 10 points in a late third-set onslaught.

It was clear that they were objectively outnumbered. However, South Korea was outclassed not only in height and offense, but also in serving, defense, and speed.

Reception was shaky from the start. Jung Ho-young’s fast break was quickly intercepted. Korea was down 0-4. They scored their first point on a double contact error. Kang So-hwi’s first offensive run made it 2-5. Later, Lee Ju-ah’s move was read by the circle. She timed her block perfectly and scored for an 8-3 lead. With the momentum on their side, Italy extended their lead to 13-4 after Rubian’s mobile attack. Kang So-hwi also struggled on the left side, unable to break through the opponent’s high blocking. It was 9-21. Italy took the first set with ease. They showed their dominance at the height with a 5-0 team blocking record in the first set.

In the second set, the South Korean blocked a Shilah attack to take a 3-0 lead. Back-to-back attack errors by Antropova made it 6-3. Kang So-hwi’s serve was sharp. Park’s counterattack made it 7-4. Soon after, the Italian tied the score at 9-9 on Rubian’s serve. As if on cue, Kang So-hwi came up with a quick attack. It became 12-11. Lee made it 13-12 with a move attack, but the veteran Sila saw an empty space and scored back-to-back attacks to tie the game. The Italians then showed their offensive prowess and took a 16-14 lead. Pietrini’s counterattack made it 19-16, and Italy scored the first 25 points of the set.

At the start of the third set, Jung Ho-young interrupted Danesi’s fast break. She was unable to stop Antropova’s high-hitting attack. Kwon Min-ji’s attack didn’t work either. South Korea was down 1-5. No attack cover. She gave up an attack point to Shilah to make it 2-8. South Korea immediately brought in Kim Dain and replaced her with Kim Ji-won. A bold attack by Kwon Min-ji brought the score to 6-12, but she was unable to close the gap. Korea closed the gap to 12-18, but Italy stopped the flow with Silvia Nwakalo. Korea came back with a Jung Ho-young kill to make it 13-19. Kim Ji-won utilized Jung Ho-young to her advantage. With a seven-point lead, Italy reached the 20-point mark and closed out the match in the third set.

Korea’s women’s volleyball team has qualified for three consecutive Olympic Games – London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. This is their fourth consecutive attempt to qualify. A total of 24 teams will compete in three groups at the Olympic Qualifiers. The top two teams in each group will qualify for Paris. From there, teams will advance to the Olympic Games based on their world ranking. South Korea is getting closer and closer to Paris.

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