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ITA/ITALY 

Current European champions Italy are highly tipped to be among the medals at the 2004 Olympic Games. Italy is not only one of Volleyball's superpowers, it is the best men's team of the 20th century, according to the FIVB selection and this is highlighted by its spectacular history in the World League competition where Italy has collected eight titles.

Their silver medal finish to Brazil in the 2004 edition was a good sign of things to come in Athens and donít be surprised if there is a rematch in the final.

Although the national Italian team had a good start in international competitions, finishing third at the European Championship in 1948 and eighth at the first World Championship in 1949, the country then had to wait for almost another 40 years for a significant success. The first breakthrough came in 1978 at the World Championships held in Rome where the Italians won the silver medal, but the best was yet to come.

Under the firm hand of head coach Julio Velasco of Argentina, Italy clearly dominated the sport in the 1990s, triumphing at the World Championship in 1990 in Brazil, in 1994 in Greece and again, under new coach, the Brazilian Bebeto in Japan, 1998. No other team can match such a record in the history of this sport. During this splendid era Italy also captured the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the bronze in Sydney 2000 under coach Andrea Anastasi.

Also from 1989 Italy won the European Championship four times, claimed the World Cup in 1995 and the Grand Champions Cup in 1993. However, following their fourth place finish in the World League two years ago and the disappointing fifth at the World Championship, a new coach Gian Paolo Montali, was appointed to lead the Azzurri back to the former glory.

Montali is clearly focused on the 2004 Athens Olympics and he showed during the 2004 World League he was prepared to experiment to make sure he finds the right combination. However, it will only be in Athens where he will see if he has found the right formula.