Italy found the right formula
Now that the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup 2011 has ended, I am
more than pleased by my former team’s performance.
For some reason, I think that very few people believed that they could
do it after placing fourth in the European Championship – but it
happened. The team is quite changed and they were able to find a good
balance and infused a lot of enthusiasm in their game.
The players that particularly caught my attention were Carolina
Costagrande and Paola Croce. Costagrande was the key player, she
stood-in excellently for Francesca Piccinini and was able to give so
Costagrande was so good in every aspect of the game. She can do
everything from passing, spiking from all positions, digging and
blocking. She’s a complete player – positive and most of all, she can
be a leader 100 per cent.
Paola Croce’s defence has been significant in Italy’s matches. It was
a good that she was called in again by the national team after several
years. I think she was ready and had good motivation. But all the
girls have been great.
It is always good to see new faces in the national team. I was
watching a match of the Italian team at the European Championship and
I realized that a team formed by all the players from the bench would
have been equally as good. I think the team had more depth on their
bench this time.
Finally, Italy’s player combination at the World Cup was good as it is
not very easy to find the good combination in a team especially when
you have a lot of good players with similar skills but they have found
the right formula.
Valentina Fiorin is a former Italian national team player.
She competed for Italy at the FIVB World Cup in 2003, the FIVB World
Championships in 2007, and the FIVB World Grand Prix (2003, 2005, 2006
and 2007). She was also part of the team that won the European
Championship in 2007. She received several awards as Best Spiker and
Best Receiver. She now plays for Japanese club Ageo Medics.
World Cup continues to excite
I have to say that I have found real excitement at this edition of the
I’m writing this blog just after the match against Germany and Italy
have just obtained their ticket to London. This was unexpected, since
they didn’t play well at the European championship and they were
heavily criticized before leaving for Japan. Furthermore, they had
three serious losses to the team with Paola Cardullo out with a hand
injury, Piccinini left at home because of problems connected to the
thyroid, and Ortolani injured at the very last minute. Despite all
this, they have literally crushed every opponent so far, playing the
best volleyball I’ve seen in the event this year.
As a former setter, fellow setters are always the first to appear on
my notebook. Eleonora Lo Bianco, the famous Leo, is absolutely my
number one. She has had a tough time in recent years having with her
battle with cancer. But she is back on court now and the world can see
how much of a champion she really is.
The World Cup is a very difficult tournament, where often even rest
days means travelling: Lo Bianco knows this fact very well since it
was during travel at the 2007 edition that she was injured and forced
to finish her campaign early.
In Italy there are calls for “Leo” Lo Bianco to be the Olympic
flag-bearer in London and I can think of no one who would deserve this
honour more. I would love to see her marching ahead of our athletes.
Thousands of people are now signing petitions on social networks. You
can join in as well by clicking “like” on Facebook. I truly believe
that volleyball and Leo Lo Bianco should represent Italian Olympic
sports in London.
There’s another setter on my favourite list: USA captain Lindsey Berg.
Her attitude is outstanding, she’s a real leader. It’s amazing how the
whole team keeps following her, not just because she is the one
keeping the ball in play.
My last comment is for Brazil. I cannot completely judge from what I
see on the video in the Sky studios. My view is limited by the
distance. I can only see faces, time outs and looks among players.
I was expecting the usual show from Brazilian players. I was expecting
lions, but instead I am seeing lambs. I don’t know what has happened
to the team guided by Ze Roberto, but they’ve lost their typical
aggressive feelings. When they were losing, in the past, they were
losing in a different way, not yielding like they are now.
I’m sure we’ll see them in London, but a different attitude is
necessary to be at the top again.
Maurizia Cacciatori is a former setter and captain for
Italy and played in over 200 matches, picking up the best setter award
at the 1998 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship. She helped the
side to bronze at the 1999 Women’s European Championship in front of
her home fans before picking up silver in the 2001 edition of the
tournament in Bulgaria. She also won gold at the 2001 Mediterranean
Games in Tunis, Tunisia. Maurizia is now retired and a very busy
mother with recently born son Carlos Maria.
Germany serious contenders for Olympic
Germany’s last match against USA was amazing. It was such a good
performance and I could see that they have a good team spirit at the
moment just by the way they played together. I think they have a big
chance of making the Olympic Games but they must make sure they stay
focused. The tournament is very tough with 11 matches across two
weeks, and that is before you think about the travel involved.
Angelina [Grün’s] return has obviously helped the team. She is a good
friend of mine, I know her very well and it was the right decision for
her to come back to the indoor game after she finished playing beach
volleyball. She has such a strong character and is a great team player
who knows what the main goal is. She has played in an Olympics before,
alongside me in 2000 and 2004, so knows what it takes to get there.
It is good that both Angelina and Giovanni [Guidetti, Germany coach]
are often on the same page. He demands a lot from both himself and his
team and will be desperate to reach the Olympics. I text messaged him
yesterday to say congratulations after the win, telling him he has a
new fan in my young daughter Emma. Giovanni of course text back saying
that he hoped to see her on the team in 16 years’ time!
It is important to remember that although players like Angelina or
Christiane Fürst and Margareta Kozuch are important, there are 12 very
good players with them in Japan as well. This gives Giovanni the
advantage to change the team around but maintain a high standard of
play. A lot of Germany’s players are doing very well at the moment,
for example, I haven’t seen Maren Brinker play better than she did
against the United States. The team have to focus on the main goal.
I hope they finish in the top three. It is good they have two chances,
with this and the continental Olympic qualification tournament, as it
is always difficult to qualify for the Games.
The top three is hard to pick, but of course Brazil will be in there.
I hope Germany join them and I think they have a good chance of making
it. I haven’t seen Italy yet but I understand they are playing very
well so I believe they will complete the podium. Qualification for
Germany is the most important thing.
Tanja Hart is a former German women’s national team player
who retired in 2008. A three-time Olympian, she competed at the Atlanta
1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games with a best finish of
sixth. Hart also competed in three FIVB Volleyball Women’s World
Championships and won bronze at the 2002 edition of the FIVB
Volleyball World Grand Prix in Hong Kong. She also helped her team
seal bronze at the 2003 European Championship in Ankara, Turkey.
Combinations the key for Japan
Having seen the Japanese women play these first few matches in
Hiroshima I have to say I’m quite disappointed with their
performances. There seems to a big gap between Japan and the rest of
the world right now. Japan’s serve reception is not good while setter
Yoshie Takeshita is really struggling. I don’t know why but she is
struggling with her combinations and since she is struggling, the
Japanese spiking is struggling.
We saw a better performance against Algeria from some of the
substitutes on Tuesday, but against the bigger, stronger teams Japan
is not coping well.
Prior to the World Cup Japan was playing very quickly but Takeshita
has really lost her touch, it’s disappointing to see at this moment.
There is still time to improve but against the likes of USA, who sound
like they are playing very well at the moment, and China, who are
building moment they will and have struggled.
Back in my day, Japan was very successful due to our variety in
combinations. We would suprise teams with different plays, and player
combinations. Now all the teams do it while Japan seems to have lost
it and Takeshita is really the key to our women’s team finding it
The same applies for our men’s team. Different combinations, rather
than regularly relying on individual players is the key. At the moment
the men’s team relies too much on Kunihiro Shimizu and they are only
successful when he is successful. Of course, injuries have not helped
our cause but this emphasises the fact that we need more depth and
strength within the squads. However, despite all that, I still think
they have a good chance at finishing third.
Brazil, both men and women, are a great team which has excellent depth
and the ability to change their combinations.
To compete against them now, a good serve and reception is key. Japan
can currently block the back court attacks but a good serving team is
difficult for them as they tend to be much stronger now.
The speed of today’s game is very fast and every team is serving a lot
stronger and on top of that, every team has data and statisticians.
Coaches have a more difficult job with all the stats they have to deal
with. I think I retired at a good time, these stats aren’t really my
Jungo Morita is a former Japan national team
player who helped his team clinch Olympic gold at the 1972 Games in
Munich. He also won the silver medal at the 1968 Games in Mexico as
well as bronze at the 1970 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in
Bulgaria. A key player for Japan in the middle blocking position, he
was known for his lighting fast reflexes, and for innovating the “Pump
Attack” and “snatch spike.”
Japan can definetely qualify for the Olympic
Now that we have completed the first round of
the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup it is a good opportunity to see
who the likely teams to reach the podium are and, consequently,
qualify for the Olympic Games.
I definitely believe Japan can qualify. The team itself believes they
can go to the Olympic Games and I believe it very strongly also. I am
a sports commentator now but somehow, as a former player, my opinion
is that I am sure they can achieve this goal although they need to
improve a lot.
Before this World Cup, Japan had lost two key players in middle
blocker Ai Yamamoto and Megumi Kurihara who were both injured. And so
there has been some changes in the members and also their positions,
therefore the team training took place in a very short period of time.
Regarding team work I think they had little time to get used to each
other well. Japan's goal was to become the world's number one
defensive team and they have been fighting for this goal until now.
However, in their match against Italy, on the serve-receive and on
receive, they lost everything. The The Italians gave the Japanese
defence a hard time meaning they could not build up their usual
rhythm. So what Japan needs to improve, I think, is the serve-receive,
Concerning other teams and the competition overall, I believe, more
than ever, that the strength of key players could lead to a surprise.
Many teams have lost some of their best players who are injured so
there are only a few teams left who can really perform at their best.
Teams such as the US and Brazil, who are permanently reaching their
best level I think are really strong.
I have participated in four World Cup tournaments in the past, and
twice I was in a situation where my team had to qualify for the
Olympic Games. The first two times were ordinary World Cup
tournaments. But in 1991 and 1995, the third position allowed the team
to get a ticket for the Olympics. Therefore, our main focus was to get
that third position. So amazingly, every team was focused on the World
Cup more than on the Olympic Games, so they were all fighting and
having the same goal in mind. Therefore, I remember having the
experience of fighting in a period when every team was at their best
level and condition. It was tough. Also, the tournaments were very
long, and even though everyone was in the same situation, for some
players like the Japanese who are traditionally quite small, it was
more difficult to fight for a long period of time.
Obayashi Motoko,44, is a Japanese legend
having played for the national women’s team from 1985 until 1996. She
participated in four World Cups (1985, 1989, 1991, 1995), two World
Championships (1990, 1994) and three Olympic Games (1988, 1992, 1996).
A devastating left arm wing spiker, the former captain, who is now a
volleyball commentator, was the first Japanese female player to play
as a professional outside of Japan when she played in Italian Serie A
club Ancona in 1995.
World Cup like first round for the Olympic
To me, the Women’s World Cup is likely to be a
three-way race between USA, Italy and Brazil, with perhaps Serbia, who
are very tall, causing an upset.
All four teams have star players with Logan Tom, Destinee Hooker and
Tayyiba Haneef-Park for the United States, Fabiana, Paula Pequena and
Sheilla for Brazil, Carolina del Pilar Costagrande for Italy and Ana
Bjelica for Serbia all top assets.
I think Brazil has learned from their defeat at the World Grand Prix
earlier this year and this was evident at the Pan American Games in
Guadalajara. They showed great progress, especially in serving and
blocking and that was key to winning the gold medal. They will be
without two great players in Jaqueline and Natália but I think they
will seal one of the Olympic Games places.
The World Cup is almost like the first round of the Olympic Games and
in that respect, is just as important. In addition, Brazil has never
won a World Cup title and will be especially keen to win for the first
Having said that, I don´t think the top three teams at the World Cup
will be the three medallists at the Games next year. The charge is
much higher at the Olympics and there are always surprises. In
addition, Cuba and Russia will certainly be in contention for medals
in London. I followed Cuba in Guadalajara and they are a young and
talented team and should provide a high level of volleyball in 2012.
It is an exhausting tournament, with many tough games in a short time.
It’s one of the toughest tournaments throughout the season and the
fitness of the players will make the difference.
Virna Dias is a former Brazilian national team player and
three-time Olympian. She won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000
Sydney Games and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Games. Virna also
won the 2004 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and clinched silver in
1999, where she also claimed the MVP, Best Receiver and Best Scorer
awards. She was also a FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup silver
medallist in 2003.
Preparation and training will tell difference at
The two favourites for me going into the World
Cup are Brazil closely followed by USA. However, no team should
underestimate how difficult this I think this competition will be.
The teams must go to the games focused to play well. So preparation
and training is essential before the competition.
I'm sure some teams are growing and finding their best game and that
there will be a few surprises. I think USA and Serbia are very well
prepared and come to the tournament off the back of some very
impressive results in all competitions. I think Logan Tom and Megan
Hodge will do particularly well but some of the European players have
looked good this year, notably Angelina Grün of Germany and Simona
Gioli of Italy.
As for Brazil, Sheila, Fabiana and Thaísa will be the top performers.
I always enjoyed playing at the World Cup. The structure is good and
it is generally well organized. The last time I played this tournament
I was very happy because the goal was to qualify for the Beijing
Olympic Games where I won the gold medal with my teammates. It was the
first gold medal for the Brazilian women’s team at the Olympic Games.
I'm very proud of it.
Fofão (Helia Souza) is one of the most decorated women to
have ever played volleyball for Brazil. A former captain of the side,
she competed at five Olympic Games, winning bronze at the Atlanta 1996
edition and Athens 2000 edition before leading her team to gold at the
2008 Beijing Games. In a career that spans two decades, she also won
four FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and
2008 as well as two FIVB Women’s World Cup and three FIVB Women’s
World Championship silver medals. Most recently she clinched the FIVB
Volleyball Club World Championship 2011 title with Turkish club