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19th Edition
5-28 August 2011

World Grand Prix Blog

Virna Dias

Brazil will not be disappointed with performance

Despite their loss in the World Grand Prix finals to USA I don’t think Brazil will be too disappointed with their performance.

Brazil lost important players such as Mari and Paula, in addition to Natalia, who was only just returning after recovering from injury and this was a major factor. Fernanda Garay is talented but very young and it was her first Grand Prix but there is still room for congratulations for all the players involved. 13 victories in 13 games before the final showed that we don’t have to rely on one or two players. But there is no doubt that with the return of the likes of Mari, Paula, Jaqueline and Natalia in perfect condition, the team will be stronger. I expect the side will be back to full strength at the Pan American Games. However this should not take away from the United States victory so congratulations to them.

Another positive from the tournament was Dani Lins, who needed to convince she could play at the top level and she made it happened at the tournament.

However the team need to improve their reception. We have many players who have great attacking skills but the reception needs to be worked on. With the return of Jacqueline it will hopefully improve for the Pan American Games and the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Coming away from Brazil, the two players who impressed me most in the finals were USA’s Logan Tom and Destinee Hooker. They played very well, especially in the final against Brazil, and were arguably the difference between the teams.

USA was, in fact, one of the big surprises for me at the tournament. After the pool stages I wasn’t expect them to do as well as they did but they proved differently. Serbia was also a welcome surprise so congratulations to them as well.

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.

Zhao Ruirui

China need to learn from mistakes

Three years have passed since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Although retired from the Chinese national team, I am still following the games and news of the team as well as volleyball events around the world. I love the sport of volleyball and my heart will always be with volleyball. I am coaching a club team of the Hebei Polytechnic University and I am also a council member of China’s World Championship Federation.

In this year’s Grand Prix preliminaries, The Chinese team finished third in Luohe, second in Quanzhou before winning the Hong Kong leg. It seems the results were getting better and better, but comparatively speaking group opponents in Hong Kong were not as strong as those from the first two legs. Thus, that win was not convincing enough.

After the conclusion of the Hong Kong leg, I talked with my former teammate Ma Yunwen, who is still playing for the national team. “Despite the victory in Hong Kong, we are not a very strong team right now. Every match in the final round will be a tough one, be careful!”

Actually China played consistent volleyball against Poland in the last match of the Hong Kong leg and the players were morally boosted by the victory. At that time, I thought it might help the team perform better in the Finals. So it’s a big surprise to me that they dropped all four matches against Serbia, Thailand, Russia and Italy to finish eighth in Macau.

The Chinese team played OK with Serbia during which they managed to stage quite a few runs. I was glad to see they rallied from 23-19 down to take the third set. Although they lost in the end, their fighting spirit was still there.

However, the next day, their performance against Thailand was really disappointing. The Thais stuck to their quick and diversified attacking tactics while China could not cope with them. I think the Chinese team has stepped back technically and tactically. We used to play very quick, well-rounded volleyball with diversified combinations, and those were the keys to our success in the past. But now all we have is the height. We have lost our most precious treasures.

Among the teams in the final round, the average height of the Chinese team is only second to Russia. But we don’t have the superior power of the Europeans in side attacks, neither do we have the quick and diversified combinations of the Asian teams. The players can play well occasionally, but in difficult times, they do not work like a team. Obviously the current coach has a lot to improve for himself too, and I think there is a remarkable gap between him and former China head coach Lang Ping and Chen Zhonghe.

The 2011 World Grand Prix has come to an end. Despite the unsatisfactory results, everyone in the team has tried their best. I hope they can learn from the experience in Macau. It’s not terrible to lose games, but it’s terrible if you don’t know why you lose.

It is a young team, but we can’t make an excuse out of it. We need to find out the real problem and try to work out the tactics suitable for ourselves. Otherwise, we will have nothing to rely on.

Zhao Ruirui is a former player for the China women's team. She is a two-time Olympian, winning gold in Athens 2004 and bronze in Beijing 2008. She also won the 2003 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup, the 2001 FIVB Women's World Grand Champions Cup as well as the 2003 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.

Jelena Reljin

Huge steps helped Serbia seal historic bronze medal

Being a manager at the World Grand Prix finals, walking out onto the court in Macau, and being a player at the 1978 Women’s World Championship when we first competed is completely different, and although at that time I was ecstatic with the World Championship, I think I enjoyed the bronze medal win slightly more. This is because I can see the huge steps taken by the federation from then until now. We have a strong organisation and good conditions to prepare all teams so they can participate in all tournaments. It was completely different then. There was no opportunity to train at such a high level. The girls now have a volleyball life where as when I played; volleyball was the second most important thing.

We had no expectations before the tournament except for reaching the final eight. Our priority has always been the European Championship as that is a path to the London 2012 Olympic Games and this was a good chance to prepare for that. It was also a chance to give the younger players on the team a chance to play against strong sides and to find out where they stand. Jovana Brakovic played very well as did Milena Rasic. Sanja Malagurski also had a good competition. She is young so we are expecting a lot from her in the future. Setter Maja Ognjenovic , who has played many big matches in her career, also performed very well and helped our young players a lot, pushing them to perform at their best. Additionally, we played without captain Jelena Nikolic for much of the competition. She is a very important player, very experienced. If she was playing I think we had a good chance of making the finals.

But having achieved what we have, we are happy. We had strong teams during the preliminary round, playing USA and Japan twice and Russia once. The match against the USA, in fact, was probably our best match of the tournament. We won 3-0 and played great volleyball, almost perfect. However, it may be strange, but sometimes you are satisfied with a match even though you lost. Our semifinal against USA was a great game for us but we lost. They are a great team because they have a number of great players with extraordinary physical possibilities and also a great team spirit.

Thailand were also a big surprise for us as they played fast and interesting volleyball. Japan are also a very special team. They are very hard workers, very focused, very disciplined and they never give up. They use every opportunity and are very fast and technically great.

I enjoyed Macau a lot and hope it is the start of a fascinating journey for Serbia.

Jelena Reljin played over 150 matches for Yugoslavia during which time she competed in three European Championships. She now works for the Volleyball Federation of Serbia in the Department of National Competition, working with the Association of First Division Volleyball Clubs. She has also been the women’s senior team manager for two years and was previously team manager of the youth women’s team for three years.

Feng Kun

World Grand Prix chance to fine tune ahead of Olympic Games

Generally speaking, the Chinese team played better and better in the preliminary round. At the beginning, they were not in top shape. The combination was not very good and the injuries also affected some players’ performance. Taking all this into consideration, it’s not surprising that the team could not display their strength and ability. Fortunately, the Chinese girls finally found their rhythm in Hong Kong and did a much better job in attacking. As the team play better, the players are morally boosted and feel much more comfortable on the court. I believe they will have even better performance in the final round.

As a former Chinese player, I am interested in all the players in the current team, especially star spiker Wang Yimei. Although struggling with injuries at the start of the season, she is still one of the most important hitters on the team. I am happy to see her play much better in Hong Kong; I think she will not disappoint in the final round. Some young Chinese players, for example middle blocker Yang Junjing and libero Shan Dan’na, are also worth watching. They will try their best to impress you in their World Grand Prix debut.

I think Thailand were the “Dark Horse” of this year’s World Grand Prix preliminaries. Actually they have been improving very quickly in the last few years. They play very quick attacks, traditional Asian style, entertaining to watch.

All the teams in the final round are very strong, Brazil and the United States kept themselves at a very high level in the last couple of years, Japan improved a lot, and we cannot underestimate Serbia.

I noticed some fresh faces from the United States, Russia and Serbia, but the veterans also play very well. Ekaterina Gamova, Logan Tom, Castro Sheilla, Lindsey Berg, Heather Bown, Eleonora Lo Bianco and Simona Gioli.

This year’s World Grand Prix final round is entertaining to watch. One year from the London 2012 Olympic Games, all the strong teams would like to take this opportunity to fine tune their line up and combination. This chance is precious both for veterans and newcomers, all the players will work really hard to impress their coaches, and it will be really exciting.

Feng Kun is a former Chinese volleyball who retired earlier this year. In a distinguished career Kun won many titles, including gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games - where she was also named MVP and Best Setter - and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the 2003 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup, the 2001 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Grand Champions Cup and the 2003 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix where she was also the Best Setter. She was also the Athletes Role Model at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.

Lang Ping

USA will continue to improve

I had the opportunity to take part in the World Grand Prix quite a few times when I coached China and the United States. From my point of view, this annual tournament is a good chance for the national teams to accumulate experience and give young players opportunities, especially for those countries that have a long season of national leagues such as Italy.

There are four to five fresh faces in the USA team compared with their squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. But these players are quite familiar with the system of the team, because most of them had experience of national training camps before 2008. I think this group of talented players is on their way up and the USA team will be even better in the near future.

As the defending World Grand Prix champions, the United States will meet tough challenges from Brazil, Russia and Italy. I have noticed that Russia and Italy are missing one or two key players while the Brazilian team is really strong.

The Chinese national team has also improved very quickly since Yu Juemin took the helm last autumn. The players with the current team are very talented and have good abilities, but they need to work harder on the details of their techniques so that they can have better control of the rhythm in rally plays.

I think it will be entertaining to watch Destinee Hooker and Foluke Akinradewo of the United States. Destinee used to be high jumper and I still remember teaching her very basic volleyball techniques like spiking and receiving when she first joined our training camp. She has been improving really fast. Foluke was still studying at the Stanford University when I coached the USA team and we took her to quite a few events including continental champions and tours to China. I am so glad to see their improvement over these years.

Chinese middle blocker Yang Junjing also impressed me a lot. As a newcomer to the national team, she plays really well.

It is a little bit surprising to me that Thailand and Serbia made it to this year’s World Grand Prix Finals. They played quite well, but sometimes the preliminary groupings also make differences. We still need to see their play more before we say whether they are new powers of volleyball.

I also noticed that World Grand Prix Finals have expanded from six teams to eight. Sometimes it’s difficult for the teams to travel almost a month for World Grand Prix events, but I think the change will benefit the overall development of the sport around the world.

Lang Ping is a former Chinese volleyball player and coach. As a player she won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games as well as the 1981 and 1985 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup and 1982 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship making her one of the most famous sporting icons in her country. After retiring she became a coach for the University of New Mexico for taking the helm of China's women's team, leading them to silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and 1998 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship. She later went on to coach USA in 2005, landing them silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She is currently coach of Evergreen club in China.

Angelina Grün

Little points will be the difference for Germany

Germany have had a hard start in this year’s World Grand Prix. The first game against Korea was tough, especially as they have some good young players at the moment. I spoke with Giovanni [Guidetti, Germany coach] and he said that Kim Yeon-Koung was a great player and has a good spike which caused them trouble. They are doing very well. It’s hard as other countries keep improving so you can never stand still. In many matches, like the one against China, they had the chance to win but couldn’t so it was nice to see them pick up the victory over Peru.

The squad is a good group who are always fighting but it is hard to constantly improve. They can still technically make the finals so I hope Germany go for it but it will be difficult. The little points will be the difference.

The strength of Germany is the group. But they develop also individually because more and more players play abroad and although it isn’t great for the German League it gives them international experience for the summer. Margareta Kozuch is always a strong player for us and we have a great middle block with Christiane Fürst. But if they win, they win as a team.

I think they will be motivated for the three games this weekend. Italy will be a great match as they could also meet in the European Championships and playing the US is always special. Hopefully they win but it is difficult as it depends on how other teams do in other pools. I’m sure Giovanni will be telling the players to just focus on their matches.

For the finals, I think Brazil will be there for sure. Brazil and Italy are the favourites for me. They don’t play with just one or two players but have a lot of people who make the difference. They have good players on the bench as well. Russia will also be in with a chance. But there could be a surprise. Japan did very well last year but I’m not sure if they can do it again.

The World Grand Prix is tough with all the travelling. Even if you’re tired you still need to be able to raise yourself for the matches. The points you win are important as well for the World Ranking and it also offers a great opportunity for young players to improve and allows the team to grow. I always enjoyed playing in the competition.

As for me, the injury to my foot is much better. My calf needs to grow a bit but now I’m fine. I’ve been practising on my own for a bit to get into shape for whatever it is I do next.

For the moment I need to digest the injury and the split from my partner. We both had different goals and it was a hard decision as we were both looking towards the Olympics. I was feeling comfortable on the tour, I was meeting new people and I liked the game. However it is not easy to find another partner and I need some time to decide what I want to do, whether it is beach volleyball or return to the indoor game. I’m curious to see what will happen and I keep practising to keep my options open.

Angelina Grün is a volleyball and beach volleyball player. She played for the Germany national team from 1997 to 2006 winning bronze in the 2002 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in Hong Kong. She also competed at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games. A nine-time German Player of the year (from 2000-2008) she has a host of honours at club level including two Champions League gold medals (with Bergamo), two CEV Cup gold medals (with Modena and Bergamo), three Italian Championships (with Bergamo), two Italian Cups (with Bergamo) and one German Championship (with USC Münster). In 2010 she joined up with Rieke Brink-Abeler to compete on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour with her highest finish being fifth at the Kristiansand Open in her first season.

Virna Dias

World Grand Prix offers ideal preparation

The World Grand Prix is the best tournament of the year. It’s really strong and gives the opportunity to play against several teams around the world. It has an excellent structure, major sponsors and is a fantastic event. The championship is one of the best preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games it is another chance to gather pace as it gets closer.

Looking at the teams, I think Brazil has a chance to fight for the title again. We have some new players, which give strength to the team and it means they can gain experience. Also Natalia is returning from injury and she will be one of the stars this year and alongside Sheilla, who was the best player in the Superliga last season, the outcome looks promising.

However there will be a threat from Cuba, Russia, China, USA and Italy, all of which will pose a challenge for Brazil when it comes to battling it out for top spot. Japan has also improved in recent years, so they could be dark horses.

But first we need to get through the preliminary stage. The team have already had a few tough encounters, particularly against Italy last week, but have come through alright so far. Cuba will be a challenge this weekend however.

For Brazil, the World Grand Prix is also preparation for the Pan American Games, which take place in October. It is important to gain experience, mainly for the Olympic Games. A victory in this competition will certainly put us among the top favourites at London 2012.

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.

Tomoko Yoshihara

Every World Grand Prix match will be tough

Japan’s fighting spirit during last year’s World Championship was a key factor in taking them to the bronze medal and they will need to keep that up if they want to make a challenge for this year’s World Grand Prix.

There was a distinct improvement in team power and the side now has a lot of experience to hand and they will want to rely on this as much as possible. If the team can demonstrate steady ability I believe the results will take care of themselves.

Of course, a lot of eyes are already looking towards next year’s Olympic Games in London and the team need to use this experience as a way to build towards that. It is very important to keep trying to improve and it is only through tournaments such as this that they can do that.

Any game in this year’s tournament will be tough. There is often so little between teams and despite the fact that many games look to be easily won, there is no such thing as an easy match in today’s game. This is one of the factors I am looking forward to the most, I believe that on their day, anyone can secure a win. Any surprises or shock victories will be good for the game in the long run as it indicates further improvement and this ultimately leads to further excitement for the fans.

Tomoko Yoshihara is a former Japanese women’s volleyball player who played for the side for 14 years between 1990 and 2004. The middle-blocker competed at two FIVB Volleyball World Championships in 1990 and 1994, winning the Best Server award at the latter. She is also a three time Olympian, competing in Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004, captaining her side on the final occasion to a fifth place finish.

Maurizia Cacciatori

Germany could be a revelation

Looking at the teams on show, I think either Brazil, China or Italy will come out on top this year but it is worth keeping an eye on Germany who could easily become the shock team of the tournament. Many of their athletes have experience abroad and they have a group of fresh and talented players on hand who can become game-winners. Additionally they have a strong coach in Giovanni Guidetti, and I’m not just saying that because we’re friends! I think that Germany might be the revelation.

I’m expecting a strong, professional attitude from all the Italian players. I know all of them, some of them really well. I admire the way the younger players are approaching the sport now, and many could easily be seen as veterans in their attitude. This is so important when you play a World Grand Prix. Being far from home for over a month you need to be focused on the team and its goals. It’s nice to see that now Italy have choices, for example the expert Francesca Piccinini can be substituted for the young Lucia Bosetti and you don’t lose any balance.

The team will have to be at their best to beat Brazil and USA. The Brazilians are the most dangerous team in the world to face. They play really fast, which is the main difference between Italy and Ze Roberto’s Brazil. All other aspects such as the playing system are similar, but the speed of the ball is really something. When I was playing, I was used to having some of the top Brazilian players in my team in the Italian Championship or as opponents. This helped a lot as you had an insight as to how they play, so when we were playing on a national level there were not as many surprises. But nowadays the players do not know each other as well as they do not play in the same championship in winter.

Many of Italian players have already stepped up in the last few years. The likes of Francesca Piccinini, the symbol of the team, captain Eleonora “Leo” Lo Bianco, the setter and libero Paola Cardullo, known as “Pally” (a nickname which combines “Paola” with the Italian word “Palla”, meaning “ball”) who is a fantastic player. As for other international players to look out for it’s hard to say as there are so many quality athletes out there. Saying that, I expect Russia’s Ekaterina Gamova to shine again. She is an icon for volleyball.

I still believe that the World Grand Prix is one of the most important tournaments to be held, alongside the Olympic Games and the World Championships. Every Federation always chooses their best team to play in the competition always. When I played for Italy you did sometimes see countries put out weaker sides intentionally in other tournaments, holding back their best players, which is logical and necessary to develop a group. However, this is something of a rarity in the World Grand Prix. It has such a strong image and is one of the best competitions to be held. For Italy, as for the other teams, the World Grand Prix will be probably the most important step to preparing for the long qualification road towards London 2012.

I consider the World Grand Prix as a fantastic experience, even from the human side. I had the chance to visit many countries and cities when I played which I would never have seen otherwise. As an example, after all these years I still recall the fans’ embrace in Chennai in 1998. They were so enthusiastic that the organizers had to call the police to allow us to exit the venue, because there were fans everywhere. Even the relationship with other players is really helped by the formula of the competition. It is so rare that the teams can sit together after the matches, sharing the halls of the same hotel, having the time to share experiences. We became very close friends with the Cuban players thanks to the World Grand Prix, even before they joined the National Italian Championship. I have fantastic memories of those days.

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.