Lausanne, Switzerland, November 18, 2013 - The FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup ended with a familiar scene: the ladies in their bright yellow tops beaming from ear to ear as they posed with the trophy for the winners’ photo.
Brazil’s volleyball queens continued their run of titles with another outstanding record of five wins and 15 points in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. After Olympic victory in London last year and this year’s triumphs in the World Grand Prix and the South American Championship, this was the fourth trophy in a row for the Brazilians. And the volleyball wizards also made history in the competition, which is traditionally held in the year after the summer Olympic Games: having previously won in 2005, Brazil is now the first women's team ever to triumph twice in the World Grand Champions Cup.
That has saved successful coach Ze Roberto any discussions in the country that will host the 2016 Olympics. Ze Roberto explained how it was a dream come true, adding with a little grin: “But in my mind it means I can rest in peace in Brazil. In Brazil, second place and last place are the same.” The question now: what can stop this phenomenal team over the next few years? Even despite having to change the set-up of the team slightly due to injury, Brazil were in a class of their own. Ze Roberto believes that one reason for this dominance, as well as the balance of the players at the highest level in the world, is undoubtedly the team’s ability to adapt. “We adjust during the match; we adjust our block and defence and the players focus at important moments.”
A fine example of this came in the final match against hosts Japan. Brazil were well down in the opening set, before a double substitution saw Claudia and Monique enter the fray. Together with impressive libero Camilla, they turned the game on its head and ultimately guided the favourites to a 3-0 victory that never really looked in danger. The Brazilians only conceded sets to Russia and the Dominican Republic, but the favourites were never really at risk. In keeping with their superiority, captain Fabiana Claudino was also voted “MVP” for the tournament: “This is a great team and I’m really happy about what we achieved.”
Olympic silver medallists USA (10 points) finished the competition in a strong second place, but only the Japanese (9), who ultimately finished third, still harboured any hopes of overall victory going into the final day of the tournament. “Japan haven’t had such a chance to win a big tournament for 20 or 30 years, so I thought that was good. I want to get rid of the stereotypes of what Japanese volleyball is all about,” said coach Masayoshi Manabe afterwards. In the end, the hosts used their home advantage to achieve their minimum goal of a podium spot. In doing so, they set the foundations for what they hope will be a more successful future.
“Throughout this tournament, we adopted a new strategy; we can see the merits of that but we can also see some issues we have to deal with. These points are now very clear, so we have to adapt for next season and reflect on what we’ve learned in this tournament and this year,” said captain Saori Kimura.
It was no coincidence that Japan, with three players, boasted the largest contingent of players in contention for the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award presented by FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°. Brazil’s coach Ze Roberto sees the Asian team posing possibly the biggest challenge to his team over the coming years: “They grew up more than other teams in those four years. Of course, they need to improve their block but before 2009 Japan were always sixth or seventh in the world; now they are on the podium every time. They improved and I think they are close to us.”
Another team undoubtedly on its way back towards the top of the game is Olympic silver medallist USA. After a disappointing World Grand Prix, in which they had to settle for last (sixth) place in the Finals despite having won the event three times in a row prior to this year, the world No. 2 appeared rejuvenated under new coach Karch Kiraly. They were once again outplayed by Brazil, losing 3-0, but won their remaining four games. “I’m happy with our result here – 4-1 for USA. We played some great matches and great teams and we look forward to an even stronger 2014,” said playmaker Kristin Hildebrand.
The ladies from the Dominican Republic, who received a wildcard entry into the tournament, have exactly the same hope. They took sets off both Brazil and USA to show just what potential they have. And coach Marcos Kwiek believes this is only the beginning: “Our team’s average age is 23, so it’s very young. We need to improve our individual skills and boost our team power. Our path ahead will be hard but I have a lot of hope for the future.”
Thailand is another team undoubtedly on its way up. Not only did they have two players in the All Star team but the Asian champions also boasted the tournament’s top scorer in Onuma Sittirak (100 points from five matches).
The closing 3-1 victory over world champions Russia was vitally important for the Thai team, ranked 12th in the world. “We’ve tried to improve volleyball in Thailand over the last 50 years. I’ve coached for 16 years and we never beat Russia. It’s my first time, so it’s a great honour for me,” said coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai.
Despite the return of Liubov Shashkova, European champions Russia endured a disappointing World Grand Champions Cup, with just one win from their five games. However, the world No. 6 was in contention in every game. “I have to think about what we are missing and try to improve and move forward,” commented coach Iury Marichev.
There is hope for the Russians, however: the World Championships will take place in Italy next year, and Russia’s volleyball ladies won the title in both 2006 and 2010. Rather ominously, the Brazilian ladies finished runners-up in their bright yellow tops on both occasions.
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