July 8, 2009 – Fifteen teams took a sigh of relief last weekend when they discovered,
thanks to Finland, that the previously unbeaten Brazilians were conquerable
after all in the 2009 FIVB World League.
3-2 victory over Brazil on Saturday was both a wake-up call for the South
Americans and a reminder to other teams at the tournament that anything can
happen with two intercontinental rounds left to play before the Final Six in
Belgrade, Serbia from July 22-26.
interesting clashes are set for the penultimate round this weekend, in
particular a top-of-the-table clash between defending champions the USA and a
resurgent Italy in Pool A.
In Pool A,
Italy has turned around its fortunes significantly since winning only one of
its first four matches and being roundly criticized by fans and media alike
back at home. Four straight wins, all over the Netherlands, have catapulted the
Azzurri into second place in the Pool, just four points adrift of leaders the
The teams lock horns this weekend in
the U.S. in a two-game series that may determine which of the two teams will
advance to the final round in Serbia. The U.S. defeated Italy twice (3-1, 3-1) when the teams played in Italy on June
19 and 21, but coach Alan Knipe knows his team will face a much better Italian
side this time around. "I think Italy will be much improved from when we
faced them," Knipe said. "We will need to play our best
other direction in the Pool are the Dutch, who once topped the table after
opening the tournament with a surprise win over Team USA. The Netherlands now
sit in third place with a 3-5 record and will have to beat China (2-6) twice
and hope the U.S. wins both its matches against Italy to regain second place
for a shot at winning the wild card to the Final Six.
In Pool B, all
three participants aside from Serbia, which has already received a bye to
Belgrade as host country, stand a chance at winning a ticket to the Final
Round. Only three points separate second-place Argentina (12 pts) and
last-place Korea (9 pts), with France squarely in the thick of things with 11
Argentina hosts first-place Serbia in Round 5, they will be confident not only
in their performances of late but also by the fact that Serbia will be without
some of their top players, as coach Igor Kolakovic decided to spare them
from the gruelling journey to South America as he looks ahead to the Final Six.
Korea, meanwhile, will not spare any player in their crunch encounter
in Cheonan. France won both its home matches (3-1, 3-2) against Korea
earlier in the tournament but with their backs to the wall, Korea is expected
to come out swinging this weekend.
In Pool C,
second-place Russia let its chances of finishing first slip away slightly last
weekend in a split at home against leaders Cuba, but the team has vowed to play
its final four intercontinental matches with the intention of knocking the
Cubans off their perch, as difficult as that now is being five points adrift.
as we have a slim chance (of finishing first) we should cling to it, "
said Russian coach Daniele Bagnoli.
Russia, who is
22-2 historically against this round’s oppenents Japan, will be hoping the
underperforming Bulgarians can lend them a hand when they play Cuba in matches
on Saturday and Sunday.
In Pool D,
Brazil’s stellar run at the tournament came to a crashing halt last Saturday when
they were upended 22-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 17-15 by Finland in Tampere.
Still, the Brazilians remain a comfortable 10 points ahead of both Finland and
Poland, while Venezuela, with 5 points and no chance of advancing, pulls up the rear.
(7-1) playing Venezuela (1-7) in its final four first-round matches, the only
real battle left in this group is that for second place and a shot at winning
the one and only wild card to the Final Six. Finland (4-4) hosts Poland (4-4)
in Round 5 with Poland returning the favor in Round 6.
four matches versus Poland will be a great test for our team. The most
difficult thing after our victory against Brazil will be to be mentally ready
for a new fight," said Finnish coach Mauro Berruto.
"I'm sure on Friday we'll need to play again
at 120 percent. We must know that and be ready for the first match. Sport is
amazing and simultaneously cruel because when you achieve something, the next
day you must be ready for something more difficult."