Belo Horizonte, Brazil, August 13 - Titleholders Brazil made tough work of their opening match in the finals of the FIVB $15 Million World League against upstarts Spain who scraped into the last round finals as second fiddle to Italy, the dominant nation in this blue ribbon annual menīs Volleyball tournament.
Driven by enthusiastic local supporters in the northern city of Recife, they took the first set 25-17, but then stumbled, let their concentration slip and allowed Spain to equalize 1-1 by a margin of four points.
Brazil soared ahead to a four-point margin 16-12. They stretched the score to 19-14 before wrapping up the vital third and went on to wrap up the match in the fourth set. Andre Nascimento put away 19 points for Brazil to be the top scorer of the match.
But in the opening match here in Belo Horizonte, France met titleholders Italy in what the local media are describing as the "Pool of Death". Yugoslavia and Poland are the other teams in the group. The Italians, using talent like Alessandro Fei and Valerio Vermiglio to perfection had a nine point lead in just 12 minutes. Some desperate renaissance shots by the French were insufficient to stop the Squadra Azzurri, who shut them out 25-14 in just 15 minutes.
France was powerless to stop the charge and failed to break through the Italian defense with Gravina and Zlatanov impenetrable on the net. A fine block by Kiefer, followed by a timely ace let the French level at 11-11 and captain Dominique Daquin came on, allowing the French a small lead. The two sides traded points to 19-19, but Italy edged ahead and Daquin served into the net to give the Italians set point in the second. Two points later Fea smashed a shot out of reach and Italy was 2-0.
Efforts by Daquin and Capet were not enough to save the French and Italy wrapped up the final set 25-21.
In other action in Recife, Russia was unshakable against Netherlands with a straight sets 3-0 victory that confirmed that Brazil and Russia are the absolute favorites to advance to the semifinals in the group playing in Recife.
In the final match of the day, Olympic gold medallists met upstart Poland. Zoran Gajic had his heavyweights out in the opening phase with Nikola and Vladimir Grbic and the lofty 206cm Ivan Miljkovic, the tallest in the side, to take a four point lead in the first five minutes.
Nikola Grbic and Andrija Geric were fearless on the net and helped expand the Yugoslav lead to 16-7. In just 15 minutes the Yugoslav blues were 10 points up and three from taking the first set. Poland rallied with five points with Murek making a large contribution, before libero Rafal Musielak failed to pick up the winning Yugoslav point, giving them a 25-20 head start.
Poland, the only undefeated team at home in the preliminary rounds, settled quickly into the second set and took the lead briefly at 10-9 and Marcin Novak's 215cm height at the net was difficult to get past. A deft overhead shot by Slobodan Boskan leveled the score at 15-15 and put Yugoslavia back in contention. A serve into the net by Robert Prygiel gave Yugoslav a 2-point lead to 20-18 and they went on to go 2-sets up.
The sting then went out of Poland's attack and they retreated, defeated in straight sets when Yugoslavia took the final with an impressive 25-13.