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and ready to go ahead of the opening match against
the Brazilian ball wizards.
Having finished sixth last year – Brazil’s worst
performance ever – the nine-time World League
winners are hungry for revenge. However, coach
Bernardo Rezende must do without retired stars Giba
and Sergio, as well as Murilo. The point-machine is not
ready to play after shoulder surgery. The coach’s son
Bruno takes on the responsibility of captaining the
team.
After the upheaval of personnel, his father is looking to
assemble a team that can once again challenge for the
World League title, which they last won in 2010. Brazil
will be particularly keen to take revenge on Russia.
Having led the Russians 2-0 with two match balls, the
world No. 1 eventually lost the Olympic final in London
so Bernardinho’s side will be out to settle the score in
the World League.
However, the two teams cannot meet until the World
League Finals, which will be held from June 17 to 21
in Mar del Plata, Argentina. This is because the third
favourite to win the World League Russia has been
drawn in Group B. Captained by the match winner
from the Olympic final, Dmitriy Muserskiy, the team is
under the guidance of new coach Andrey Voronkov. The
Russians last won the prestigious competition, which
features the best national teams in the world, in 2011.
Last year’s World League finalists USA also have a new
coach in John Speraw. He brings with him a well-known
assistant, in the form of former beach volleyball star
Matt Fuerbringer. Speraw sees the World League as
more of long-term preparation for the 2016 Olympic
Games, doing without star player Clayton Stanley as he
looks to build for the future.
Last year’s surprise package, Germany, is also looking
ahead to major events in the future. The Germans have
also opted to rest superstar Gyorgy Grozer and captain
Bjorn Andrae. The same applies to eight-time World
League winners Italy, who are without experienced
stars Samuel Papi, Luigi Mastrangelo and Alessandro
Fei. Last year’s fourth-placed team, Bulgaria, also has
a new man at the helm, with former assistant Camilo
Placi replacing Nayden Naydenov as head coach.
Cuba takes on the role of dark horse in this year’s World
League, having finished third in 2012. The Caribbean
team’s only previous World League victory came back
in 1998. Fifteen years down the line, all eyes will be on
the exciting and youthful side to see if they can better
last year’s incredible performance.
One nation very capable of springing a surprise is
Argentina. The hosts of the Finals will be hoping the
appointment of former top spiker Maros Milinkovic
as assistant coach will give the team in the blue and
white shirts an extra boost. The squad also includes
Ivan Castellani, whose legendary father is no longer the
coach of fellow World League participants Finland.
Only six teams will progress to the Finals in the Islas
Malvinas competition hall in Mar del Plata. As host,
Argentina is already guaranteed their place at the final
showdown in the country’s largest and best-known
coastal resort. A further two tickets will be up for grabs
in Group A, which consists of Brazil, Poland, USA,
France and Bulgaria. Two teams will also progress to
the final round from Group B, which features Russia,
Cuba, Italy, Germany, Serbia and Iran.
Group C is made up of teams from lower down in
the world rankings – The Netherlands, Japan, South
Korea, Canada, Finland and Portugal. The Netherlands,
Olympic champions andWorld League winners in 1996,
are back in the competition for the first time since 2010.
After missing out on qualification for the Olympics last
year, Japan has turned to a foreign coach for the first
time – American Gary Sato, who does, admittedly, have
Japanese roots.