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World League - General preview

2002 World League:
From strength to strength in its 13th season

It's countdown time for the World League, FIVB's richest volleyball prize. Sixteen of the world's elite teams are about to face off in the 13th edition of the competition that draws thousands of spectators at events and millions more via television coverage.

The "League" - as it is affectionately known to aficionados around the world - is again offering prize money to equal last year's record of $15 million. In the past 12 seasons it has distributed a staggering $76 million in prize money, with Italy taking the lion's share of $11.5 million. That the purse has grown from a mere one million dollars in 1990 is perhaps the best indication of the tournament's dynamic growth.

This year's teams - Brazil, Argentina, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Venezuela and Yugoslavia will begin the Intercontinental Round playoff on the weekend of June 28-30 and continue their battle for a place in the coveted finals over the next six weekends.

A victory at home for Brazil?
This year Brazil hosts the World League Final round, to be held in the cities of Recife and Belo Horizonte. The Boys from Brazil rose like phoenix from the ashes last year to snatch glory from the seemingly invincible Italians. This time they want a victory before the enthusiastic home fans. But the road to the final will be long and hard and other top teams, honed to their sharpest ahead of the World Championship, will be trying to knock them out of contention. One thing is guaranteed; volleyball fans are in for a feast of sporting entertainment, culminating in the final round on 12-18 August.

Sneak preview
Perhaps one of the biggest attractions this year will be the fact that the League offers 14 of the 16 competing teams the perfect opportunity to size up their opponents ahead of the year's biggest competition, the battle for the World Championship title in Argentina (28 Sept - 13 Oct.).

When Brazil won last year's League title, their victory went some of the way to soothing the pain of a disappointing sixth place at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. That they faced and beat the mighty Squadra Azzurra of Italy in the final made their victory even sweeter. But 2002 is another year, and there are 15 teams ready to ruthlessly cut them down to size. Only time will tell if the Brazilians can thrill the home fans by taking their third title on their home turf with their young, talented and now more experienced side.

Other top favorites
Italy, with an unbroken record of competing in World League, has dominated the sport during the past decade and remains among the favorites. The Italians have won all but two World League titles since 1990, and want to hone their lineup ahead of the World Championship in Argentina (Sept.28-Oct.13). Coach Andrea Anastasi - who has, over the years, been part of Italy's winning World League team as a player and as a coach, intends to pepper his side of heavyweights with a string of young players hungry for success. Among the other top teams expected to emerge from the Intercontinental shakeout are Yugoslavia, the Olympic Champions and Russia, who like Italy has had an unbroken record in competing in World League. Russia won the bronze medal last year at the finals in Katowice, Poland, where their string of young players gained valuable top competition experience ahead of this important year.