Katowice, Poland, June 28, 2011 – Poland's prospects of making a big impact on the Final Round of the 2011 FIVB World League will be tested when they host nine-times winners Brazil in their final two matches of the Intercontinental Round this week.
When the teams met in Rio de Janeiro on June 4 and 5, the 'Canarinhos' won 3-0 and 3-1. The European side will hope to fare better when the pair reconvene on Wednesday and Thursday at Spodek Hall, a place considered the 'Mecca' of Polish volleyball, and with good reason. Poland have played 29 World League matches there already, and the venue has twice hosted the Final Round, in 2001 and 2007. With all tickets sold out inside a week, the matches will draw more than 10,000 spectators.
Bernardo Rezende, the Brazil coach, is looking forward to returning to the arena. "I am glad to be back in Katowice, this is a great place because everything started there for me. We won the World League for the first time in my career here, in Spodek," he told a press conference.
Brazil need only one point to secure their berth in the Final Round in Gdansk. As for the Poles their progress is guaranteed whatever their final Pool A placing but a team looking rejuvenated under new coach Andrea Anastasi will be going for the victory. They have won six of their Pool A matches and sit second but just one victory over Brazil would give the Final Round hosts a huge dose of self-confidence going into the decisive phase by the Baltic Sea from July 6-10.
History is not with the Poles with past World League matches between the countries having yielded 16 Brazilian wins and only four for Poland since 1998, the most recent coming in 2002. Brazil have held the upper hand in other international tournaments, having defeated Poland without dropping a set in the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2009 FIVB Grand Champions Cup and 2010 FIVB World Championship.
The only recent Polish success came in an unofficial match in August 2010 that served as an opening event for the Ergo Arena – venue for the Final Round – when Poland won a thrilling game in five sets (25-21, 25-18, 14-25, 17-25, 20-18).
Anastasi's charges travelled to Katowice on Saturday night by bus, coming straight from Plock, where they beat Puerto Rico twice to pick up six points. Judging by Anastasi's selections over the past month, there are unlikely to be any changes to his team, fitness permitting – the sole change to his 14-man squad in that time was for the matches with Puerto Rico when Piotr Gruszka returned.
Poland's most experienced player, Gruszka has played in 147 matches in 12 editions of the World League yet the 34-year-old captain did not take part against Puerto Rico, with Anastasi saying he had not recovered fully after his shoulder surgery. "Piotr is a great player, but he is now in a worse shape than the rest of his team-mates. I don't want to weaken the team," said the Italian, who must make a decision on Gruszka's involvement against Brazil soon enough – we should know by 7.30pm GMT on Tuesday.
The Brazil squad, meanwhile, arrived on Monday night in the capital of Polish Silesia, having travelled by bus from Warsaw airport. They had their first training session on Tuesday at noon and the only question regarding their line-up is whether Visotto will be fit after he pulled a muscle during the South Americans' win in the USA last Friday. "Wallace is coming tomorrow from Brazil with a doctor, who will make a decision about Visotto's condition," Rezende said.
Volleyball will take centre stage at Spodek Hall just days after the second phase of EuroBasket Women 2011 concluded on Sunday. That event ended unhappily for a Poland side beaten in all three games. The hope is that the nation's men's volleyball players will fare rather better but beating Brazil will be no easy task.