Sada Cruzeiro recently defeated the Brazilian national team – Olympic silver medallists and reigning world champions, currently preparing for the start of the FIVB World League – 4-1 in a friendly match in the arena. Following the game, Sada Cruzeiro was presented with honorary medals by the city of Belo Horizonte, in recognition of their outstanding performances in recent months.
Just more than two weeks ago, Sada Cruzeiro also emphasised their dominance in South America by claiming Brazil’s Superliga crown. It was the fifth piece of silverware: Sada previously won the South American Championship, the Mineiro Championship, the Copa Brasil and the Club World Championship in the last year.
“It was nice to have our performance recognised in that way,” said coach Marcelo Mendez. “I hope the positive energy will help us in our World Championship campaign.”
The coach knows full well that, despite home advantage in Brazil, his team faces a very tough challenge at the 10th anniversary of the showdown between the best club teams in the volleyball world.
Pool A of the FIVB Men’s Club World Championship consists of defending champions and hosts Sada Cruzeiro, Asian champions Matin Varamin of Iran, European champions Belgorie Belgorod of Russia and Puerto Rico’s Guaynabo Mets, the NORCECA appointed team in the competition. Four time Club World Champions, Italy’s Trentino Diatec who join this year’s line-up courtesy of a wild card, are in Pool B alongside UPCN of Argentina who qualified for the tournament after finishing as runner-up at the South American Men’s Club Championship. They join African champions Esperance of Tunisia and wild card holder Al-Rayyan of Qatar in the same pool.
The toughest opponent for the star-studded Sada Cruzeiro squad promises to be European Champions League winner Belogorie Belgorod. The team, spearheaded by 2.18-metre Olympic gold medallist Dmitriy Muserskiy, may just have suffered a shock 1-3 defeat at the hands of eventual champion Zenit Kazan in the semi-final of the Russian championship, but the star team from the land of the Olympic champions has its sights set firmly on the Club World Championship title.
“I talked to the players, we analysed our errors, and we are motivated to iron them out,” said Belogorie mentor Gennady Shipulin. “I am quite happy that the Russian season has come to an end. We still have another competition round the corner: the Club World Championship in Brazil.”
Belgorod’s star attacker Georg Grozer also travels with the clear goal of helping his team become the first Russian team ever to win the title.
“I know I've already won a lot, but winning is fun,” he said. “That is why I'm going to give it my all so that I keep on winning medals! My goal is the club world championship, which I haven't won yet.”
The two clubs fancied to progress to the semi-final stage from Pool B are UPCN of Argentina and Trentino Diatec. The Italians are the most successful club in the history of the FIVB Men’s Club World Championship, having won four successive titles from 2009 to 2012, before finishing third last year in Betim, Brazil. Last year – having first been held between 1989 and 1992, and then on an annual basis since 2009 – the meeting of the best club teams in the world was won by a non-Italian club for the first time: Sada Cruzeiro.
Local heroes Sada Cruzeiro and their MVP Wallace Souza will begin their bid for another World Championship title when they take on the Guaynabo Mets at 20:00 (local time) May 5. The first day will also see Pool B matches between UPCN and Esperance Tunis at 14:00 (local time) followed by another between Trentino Diatec and Al-Rayyan at 17:00 (local time). European champions Belgorie Belgorod will take to the courts on the second day of competition when they take on the Guaynabo Mets at 17:00 (local time).
The outsiders from Puerto Rico have only been able to train together twice a week at times in the run-up to the tournament.
“The teams we are facing are taller than us so we have to be fast enough to make points,” said coach Javier Gaspar, who is out to shock the hot favourites from Brazil and Russia. “The first games are very important for us and we need to maintain a high level because they don’t know much about us. We have to reach a great position throughout the pools so we can move to the next round.”
The two pools of four teams compete on a round-robin basis for the first four days with the top two teams in each pool proceeding to the semi-finals, which will take place May 9. The third-place play-off and final will be held Saturday, May 10 at 16:30 and 19:00 (local time) respectively.
Sada Cruzeiro’s superstar Wallace Souza is optimistic that Sada Cruzeiro’s title defence will reach a successful climax in the 18,000-seater Mineirinho Arena.
“We’ve been together for four years and it took a lot of training to get to this standard of play and the level of rapport that we now have,” he said. “To play here in Mineirinho with our fans will be very special – and we want to win another title.”
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