Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, July 6, 2005 - "We are going to do much better in Belgrade." Ominous words from Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende, ahead of the 2005 World League Final Round, which starts on Friday in the "Belgrade Arena" Hall of Sports, after his team finished the Intercontinental Round with an outstanding 11-1 win-loss record.
Brazil, Cuba, Poland and hosts Serbia and Montenegro will duel over three days for the honour of World League champion, a title Brazil has won for the previous two years.
They hold the mantle as the best men's team in Volleyball at present as Olympic and world champions, World Cup holders and ranked number one in the world and despite some new faces in the squad, the question begs to be asked, who can beat them?
Portugal did in the second weekend of the Intercontinental Round, breaking a World League winning streak of 25 games dating back to 2003 but now Cuba, Poland and Serbia and Montenegro will need to do the same to have any hope of walking away with World League glory.
Rezende said in the last weekend of the Intercontinental Round after only conceding 57 points in their 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-21) defeat of Venezuela; "This is an important week in our preparation for the finals. Our service is better and we improved our block, but this victory can not be an illusion for the players, because we are going to do much better in Belgrade."
World number three Serbia and Montenegro look to have the firepower to challenge them, especially when considering they'll be playing in front of their home fans. The Blue Team lost to Brazil in last year's semifinals 3-0 (25-23, 32-30, 25-20) in Italy and the year before they were on the wrong side of an epic final defeat in Madrid. The big question is Serbia and Montenegro's experience. While captain Nikola Grbic, Ivan Miljkovic and Andrija Geric returned during the Intercontinental Round to help the 2000 Olympic champions storm to five wins out of their last six matches, there are still some new faces who will be tested under the gaze of their home fans and the opposition.
Cuba, ranked 16th in the world, have been the revelation of the tournament, with their young and athletic squad revisiting the Cuban World League glory days of the 90's when Cuba finished no worst than fourth and picked up no less than seven World League medals. Their eight wins and four defeats during the Intercontinental Round were enough to pip eight time champions Italy in the race for the finals ticket in Pool B, confirming their place with victory in their final match against France.
Poland, ranked seventh in the world, had an equally exciting journey. With bumper home crowds watching their every move, the Poles overcome a difficult injury toll and some stern opposition - including Serbia and Montenegro whom they beat in Belgrade 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 22-25, 26-24) - to finish top of Pool C with nine wins and three defeats.
First match between Cuba and Poland starts at 15:00 GMT (17:00 local time) before Brazil take on last year's bronze medalists Serbia and Montenegro at 18:00 GMT (20:00 local time).