Ningbo, August 21, 2007 - Together with host China, Brazil, Italy, Russia, Poland and the Netherlands have been qualified for the Women's Volleyball Grand Prix Final Round slated in Ningbo, China from Aug. 22-26.
The 2007 Grand Prix lasts four weeks with a total of 65 matches. The top five teams, after three weeks of preliminaries, will play with China in a round robin system in Ningbo to decide the Grand Prix champion.
Despite a typhoon threat, the matches were regularly played in Chinese Taipei during Aug. 17-19. In the most absorbing match, Italy beat leaders Brazil on the last day, stopping the South Americans' unbeaten run at the Grand Prix and they both advanced. Italy, now finishing second on the rankings behind Brazil, emerged as another main contender for the coveted title.
Brazil, the six-time champion, has not met serious resistance in the previous rounds except for the Italy match, compiling a ruthless 8-1 record after three weeks' preliminaries and only dropping five sets while playing against Italy in the first and third rounds.
The Brazilians, who claimed three titles in a row at the elite tournament in the last three editions, still remained as the heaviest favorite at the event despite the sloppy loss to Italy.
For 2007 Grand Prix finals, Brazil's head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes has been keeping wary of three opponents.
"China will play at home, and they are improving all the time. Another strong candidate to win this Grand Prix is the squad of Russia, who won the World Cup" said the coach ahead of the 2007 campaign.
"Playing in China just one year before the Olympic Games will be very important for our team. We will be able to know more about the country."
The third week's play continued to see a different Poland: The shy team, which lost all three matches in its home debut two weeks before, was fully fired-up in the remaining two rounds under some magic build-up from Marco Bonitta, the former head coach of Italy.
After three match winning streak in Hong Kong, China during Aug. 10-12, the European champions repeated the feat in the last round in Japan and qualified for the bonanza event for the first time ever.
With beating world champions Russia on Aug. 17, head coach Bonitta said: "Now we have started on a road. I cannot say if it is better or worse than before, but we are travelling on a road and are having fun, too. This is a good way."
Poland's captain Dorota Swieniewicz gave credits to the coach, saying that Bonitta has changed their way of training, physical preparation and tactics.
"We can start the match with our best strategy and he has given us a secure feeling," she said after the Russia clash.
The moment the Russians stepped inside Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium, the memories came flooding back: memories of a pulsating tie-break victory over Brazil in the FIVB World Championship final last November and memories of the gold medals around their necks.
But it was a bitter pill for Russia to lose 3-0 to Poland in the Japan leg, and went on to show some signs of vulnerabilities against Kazakhstan as they risked a lot by winning just at the end of the tie-break.
However, the seven wins against just two losses were good enough to send Russia to Ningbo after finishing third on the general rankings. The Russians had been hoping for a fourth title after they won in 1997, 1999 and 2002 finals in 14 editions of the annual women's competition. They lost thrillingly 3-1 to the Brazilians in last year's final.
The Netherlands got all things under control after winning three games in a row in Macao, especially beating the United States 3-1 on Aug. 19. They also beat China and Cuba at this leg.
With playing in absense of some key players, China only finished eighth with four wins against five losses after the preliminaries.While the United States missed the finals for the third consecutive year.