Santa Fe, Argentina, June 13, 2018 - A masterclass from Ana Bjelica and Milena Rasic ensured in-form Serbia crushed local hopes during a straight sets victory over Argentina in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Wednesday.
Bjelica (18 points) and Rasic (16 points) made all the big plays at the pivotal moments to propel Serbia to a 3-0 (29-27, 25-13, 25-16) win - their 11th of a memorable VNL thus far.
The goodwill continued for a hot serving Serbia - minus a slew of mainstays and their head coach - after an upset victory over the United States on Tuesday booked a finals berth and they had plenty of contributors, including the powerful Bojana Milenkovic who continued her strong form with 12 points.
Despite the lopsided score line, it was a highly competitive affair for much of the match testament to Argentina's effort fuelled by a passionate home base but Serbia were a class above and maintained their unbeaten record over the South Americans at major world level.
The result means Argentina will be relegated from the VNL with just one victory during an arduous campaign but impressive teenager Agnes Victoria Michel Tosi (8 points, 3 blocks) starred in a much-needed tonic for the hosts.
In an electric opening, both teams played an aggressive brand in an entertaining start to thrill the capacity crowd with Argentina - much like in their win last start over Korea - buoyed by the support. After a wayward start, Serbia found their groove through opposite spiker Bjelica who put away a couple of strikes in style followed by a thumping 90 kmh thunderbolt from Milenkovic to give her team a narrow 8-7 lead at the first technical timeout.
Both teams were making errors on aggressive serves as 18-year-old sensation Tosi showcased her precocious talent with a booming block as points were traded between the teams. Scores see-sawed during a tense first set marked by a slew of spectacular spikes but it was Argentina who were the more accurate as they built a handy 19-16 edge.
Tosi's brilliant opening stanza was highlighted by a deft block as excited local fans could sense Argentina drawing first blood and halting Serbia's habit of fast starts having won their previous seven first sets.
Under pressure amid the swirl of anticipation, Serbia's high-octane game started unravelling testament to a complete miscue by Milenkovic on an attempted spike. Both teams missed opportunities to wrap up the set but Serbia rattled off three points to pinch the marathon 32-minute stanza much to the disbelief of the crowd.
Tenacious defence was the catalyst for Serbia winning a lengthy 28-second rally amid peeling off five straight points to take control of the second set at 7-2. A leaping Julieta Constanza Lazcano attempted to gamely keep her team afloat but Serbia had found their range, particularly Milenkovic who kept hammering spikes as the visitors gained a stranglehold over the contest.
After a quiet stretch, Tosi came back to life with a pair of spikes to get fans jumping out of their seats but Serbia responded through brilliance from Bjelica and Rasic to steamroll through a lopsided second set in just 24 minutes.
Fuelled by their passionate fans, Argentina would not roll over as they skipped out to an early 7-4 lead in the third set with Serbia seemingly taking their foot off the pedal.
As has been their bane throughout the VNL, Argentina struggled for consistency as Serbia sensed their opening and stormed back to regain the lead at 12-11. Cunning serving from Rasic essentially gave Serbia an unassailable lead and they completed the formalities in style with a thumping Jelena Blagojevic spike.
Argentina will play powerhouse the United States on Thursday to complete the pool phase, while Serbia takes on a slumping Korea in a tune up ahead of the finals.