Lausanne, July 1, 2009 - The fourth round of
intercontinental play at the 2009 FIVB World League takes place this weekend,
with the USA, France, Cuba and Brazil leading their respective groups.
Many changes in the standings took place last weekend,
particularly in a tight Pool B, but one constant remained: undefeated Brazil
continues to dominate after two more victories, this time over Poland.
Will there be any surprises this weekend? Tune in to find
In Pool A, the United States will look to hold on to
their newfound lead after leapfrogging the Netherlands last weekend with two
wins over last-place China. The two teams meet again this weekend, the only
difference being that the games will be played in China instead of Stateside.
The USA (5-1) should be extremely confident of collecting maximum points
against China (1-5), not only due to their exceptional form at the tournament,
but also because they now hold a 42-12 advantage over China in meetings since
The other Pool A showdown promises to be a more even
affair, with the second-place Dutch traveling to third-place Italy with only
three points separating the two after the Azzurri won both matches against the
Dutch in Holland last weekend. The Italians (3-3) are on the ascendancy after a
lackluster start to the competition, while last week's losses took the wind out
of the Dutch (3-3), who opened the tournament with a shock win over defending
champions the United States. One bonus for the Italians is that captain Valerio
Vermiglio will rejoin the squad for the remainder of the team's Pool A matches.
In Pool B, some air finally separates the teams after
France became the first team in the group to win both matches of a weekend
series last week against Korea. The victories left France (4-2) on 11 points,
one better than Serbia (3-3), and two up on Argentina (3-3). Last-place Korea
(2-4) trails Argentina by one point.
France will once again play on home soil, this time
against Serbia, in a showdown that could ultimately determine which team
finishes first in the pool. The French are looking to add to their points total
this weekend before jetting off to Argentina and Korea for the final two
rounds. Serbia, which received a bye to the Final Six as host of the Final
Round, will nevertheless be a dangerous foe, although the team has yet to meet
the expectations of their home fans and media.
Both Argentina and Korea know the clock is ticking on
their aspirations of reaching the next round, and will want to sweep the series
to keep pace with the leaders.
Argentina's goal was to win at least one match against
each of its rivals overseas, which it accomplished, and the team is in a
confident mood heading into its final six Pool B matches, all at home.
In Pool C, Russia and Cuba will play in what is
considered the de facto final for the group. Cuba and Russia both enjoy a
sizeable lead over Bulgaria and Japan, and know two straight wins this weekend
would go a long way to giving them a berth in the Final Round.
Cuba (5-1) has 15 points and leads Russia (4-2) by 3
points, although the Russians do have home-court advantage this time around.
The teams split their series in Havana in June, with both matches going five
Cuba has been known for its poor away form over the
years, so it will be interesting to see what kind of performance they produce
in Russia and later against Bulgaria. Cuba coach Orlando Samuels, however, says
his new batch of players has what it takes to win on the road.
"These players have a different mentality compared
to the previous generations. Last weekend in Japan we played well, which is a
good sign," Samuels said. "Of course Russia is stronger. That's why
I'll be satisfied if we win just one game here."
World No. 4 Bulgaria kept its dreams of reaching the
Final Round alive with a split against Russia in Khabarovsk last weekend. It is
expected to have a much easier time against Japan, which is still struggling to
get its game together mentally, according to both coach and players.
In Pool D, the only question being asked is, "Who
can stop the indomitable Brazilians?" It's been six wins in six games for
Brazil, who have only dropped three sets so far. Next up for the top-ranked
team in the world is Finland, who have failed to beat Brazil in 10 attempts in
the World League, although the Europeans came close in their first encounter
this year, pushing Brazil to five sets on June 19.
Finland coach Mauro Berrutto is under no illusion just
how daunting a task his team faces, but nevertheless welcomes the challenge.
"It is always a big honor and a great challenge for
us to play against Brazil, the world's No.1 team," Berrutto said. "In
Brasilia we came close to realizing our dream of beating Brazil and we hope
that the distance will get shorter all the time."
Poland and Venezuela, who lost both of their matches last
weekend, will need to turn things around quickly if they have any chance of
making it to the Final Round. Poland won both its matches against Venezuela in
their first encounter in June in Venezuela.