Reggio Calabria, Italy, September 5, 2006: The sparring is over. Now it’s down to the business end of the FIVB World Grand Prix 2006.
From Wednesday to Sunday at the Palacalafiore, the Final Six will fight for the honour of winning the 14th Grand Prix title and the first-place prize money of $200,000.
The teams and all event officials are accommodated in the Mediterranean resort paradise of the Altafiumara Hotel, 11 kilometres from downtown and with stunning views of the Straits of Messina and mountains of Reggio Calabria.
The manicured gardens and sea-view terraces provide a tranquil retreat for the players, and the perfect setting in which to unwind after a fiercely-fought match – and there will be plenty of those over the next five days.
Brazil, seeking a sixth Grand Prix crown and third in a row, will be the team to beat, first for Pool B rivals Russia and Japan, and then in the knockout stage for Pool A teams China, Cuba and Italy.
When asked which team would be the most dangerous for Brazil, head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes replied quickly: “Everybody! This is the Final Round, everything changes.
“For us it will be good to play Russia. We have played Italy, Cuba, China and Japan in the preliminary rounds, so to have the chance to play Russia here is good for my plan.
“You can watch them on video but you need to play against them to see their power and their qualities.”
The Brazilians have a fitness concern over Mari Steinbrecher, who has a slight abdominal strain and trained gingerly with her team-mates on Tuesday afternoon at the competition venue.
Brazil will open the Final Six against Russia in Pool B on Wednesday, followed by China and Cuba in Pool A.
Host Italy, who have never won the Grand Prix title, will play their first Pool A match on Thursday, against Cuba.
Head coach Marco Bonitta attended a civic reception hosted by the Mayor of Reggio Calabria at city hall on Tuesday morning, and said: “I am very happy to come back to Italy, to come home.
“Every final has a particular history, and two years ago we lost the final here to Brazil.
“At this moment Brazil, Russia and China are a little stronger than us, but during this week Italy must improve our aim, not our tactics.”
Italy’s Pool A rivals, China and Cuba, have won the Grand Prix title three times between them, Cuba in 1993 and 2000 and China in 2003, while Russia have won three times, in 1997, 1999 and 2002.