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World League 2011
22nd Edition, May 27 - July 10
World League Blog

Andrea Zorzi


Alekno the key to Russia's success - Zorzi
Following Russia's outstanding World League victory volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi says that new Russian coach Vladimir Alekno is responsible for the success having changed the attitude of the key Russian players. See the blog here

I still pick Brazil - Zorzi
Volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi reiterates his orginal World League Finals pick and says Brazil will be too strong for Russia in Sunday's final to win their 10th title. See the blog here

Weber very smart - Zorzi
FIVB blogger and volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi compliments Argentina coach Javier Weber for his strategy in the 3-2 defeat to Poland, which saw the hosts qualify for the semifinals of the FIVB World League on Friday. See the blog here

Great to see amazing Argentina in action
See Andrea Zorzi's review of the second day of the FIVB Volleyball World League Finals here

Cuba big surprise but Brazil still team to beat
After the long first day of world league finals I still think that Brazil is the favorite. In the last edition of the World League Brazil always started very slowly and in the first two sets against Cuba they played very poorly, then ‘Bernardinho’ changed some players, then especially Cuban young players without experience, gave too much opportunity to Brazil to come back into match. So they succeeded in coming back from 2-0 down and then won the tie break and the more experience and bigger talent of Brazil gave them opportunity to win.

Regarding USA and Russia all the journalists, and I’m among them, think for many years that Russia is a very strong team, the question is ´will Russia be the best team?´ Because they’re very close, they’re often in final, they’re good, powerful, technically good, but they miss out too many times. For the Russia team especially there’s a big pressure, it’s not enough to play well when they play against USA, they have to win, that’s a problem. So all the world of volleyball is waiting for Russians to come back as the world’s best team.

With regards to Argentina against Italy, it was two Latin teams, they chat too much probably through the net, I’m Italian and I’m big fan of my country but I think that Argentina won because they’re smarter or they played smarter.

Facundo Conte told us many times that he likes old style. It means using the head and not relying only on power. And today Argentina’s team played smarter than Italy.

The last game was a tough match, 3-2 means that match was very balanced. Poland was ahead and Bartman had a bad injury so all the Polish team stopped playing completely and they risked to loose the match. But the match was very balanced, Stoychev – coach of Bulgaria – has said that they cannot be the good news story of the Finals because they’re not at the same level as the other teams, the problem with Poland is that they have some people with injuries and today was even worse because also Bartman suffered an injury. The match was good and the win was wonderful, but it always happens in Poland because the fans are fantastic. The gym was crowded and they supported their players from beginning to the end.


See Andrea Zorzi's review of the first day of the FIVB Volleyball World League Finals here

Andrea Zorzi is a former Italian volleyball star who won two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship crowns in 1990 and 1994 as well as three World League titles from 1990-1992 where he also won the Most Valuable Player award at both the 1990 and 1991 editions. He was also a silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and won the 1989 European Championship in a career which spanned 325 matches. After retiring in 1998, he collaborated with a number of important Italian TV networks as well as international newspapers as a journalist.

Tom Hoff


USA has opportunity to shine at Final Round

USA has a golden opportunity to shine at the World League Final Round. Although we limped into the Final Round, this is a great chance for many high-quality volleyball matches under high-stress and pressure to perform just one year before the London 2012 Olympic Games. We need to grasp this opportunity; actually the guys need to put a death grip on these opportunities in an effort to maximize every experience and learning moment that is presented to us in Poland. We have shown flashes of brilliant volleyball unfortunately alongside some abysmal performances. But the end result is that the guys were able to put themselves in a position to possibly win the World League title this year.

Of course this is a lot of talk with the imbalance of the pools for the final round. If you have been playing international volleyball or watching for several years, how can you not be accustomed to controversy in building out the pools. What I do not understand is why everyone is complaining so loudly. If you plan on coming to Poland and winning the whole thing; guess what, you will have to beat these teams eventually so nothing should derail that single minded thought process. I get bombarded with messages about USA's pool being a bad draw and questions of how could it happen. I actually think quite the opposite, team USA is in a fantastic pool, we have recent and consistent World League podium teams in Brazil, Russia, and Cuba. We have been graciously allowed the opportunity to play against the pool of "final round podium teams" giving us the ability to fully test and prepare our team before the ultimate show down.

It is no secret that consistency has been an issue so far for the USA side again, this is gives them a chance to put that right. They have a great chance to wipe that moniker from this team's description by rising to the challenge in Poland. Cuba presents a wild card match which is mostly based on what Cuba team actually shows up. USA-Russia is quite difficult for us traditionally, with Russia winning most of our meetings before this streak was obliterated with help from David Lee's two monster well timed blocks in Beijing. And of course USA-Brazil. One thing is for sure I know our guys are not in awe playing Brazil (like many other countries) in an elimination format, we have consistently created and implemented successful keys to unlocking their offense which has resulted in many victories along the years. I do look forward to many great matches coming out of Poland in the next week.


Tom Hoff was captain of the USA team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and also helped his side clinch the 2008 FIVB Volleyball World League title as well as silver at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup. He has competed on the last three Olympic teams and more recently he was part of the USA coaching staff at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy. He is currently retired from Volleyball and working for Predixion Software in addition to enjoying his post-volleyball time with his five daughters in Laguna Niguel, CA.


Andrea Zorzi


Brazil are strong favourites
Italian legend Andrea Zorzi has picked Brazil to make it 10 World League titles and nine in the past 11 years when the FIVB Volleyball World League Finals take place in Gdansk, Poland from Wednesday through Sunday.

Zorzi, who won two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship titles in 1990 and 1994 as well as three World League crowns from 1990-1992 where he also won the Most Valuable Player award at both the 1990 and 1991 editions, is in Gdansk where he will providing his thoughts regularly to www.fivb.org and after taking in the official press conference at the team’s hotel on Tuesday, says the world No. 1 is the team to beat once again.

See Zorzi's blog here

Andrea Zorzi is a former Italian volleyball star who won two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship crowns in 1990 and 1994 as well as three World League titles from 1990-1992 where he also won the Most Valuable Player award at both the 1990 and 1991 editions. He was also a silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and won the 1989 European Championship in a career which spanned 325 matches. After retiring in 1998, he collaborated with a number of important Italian TV networks as well as international newspapers as a journalist.


Nalbert


Too close to call

With the final weekend just about to begin, it is still too difficult to say who will be in the Final Round just yet. All the teams are so close. I think USA are playing well, they shouldn’t have problems against Puerto Rico.

Argentina have also been very good and have been the biggest surprise for me in the Intercontinental Round. To be first in their pool is a surprise. Saying that though, I hope and also think Serbia will get through. They are good for volleyball and good technically. Poland has a special crowd that love volleyball and it’s always great to play there so teams like Serbia are important to keep the level of play high.

Despite already having a place in the Finals, Brazil will play with full force and lots of power against Poland this weekend. They’ll need to go into the Final Round with momentum and a win behind them.

Individually Brazil don’t have a stand out player. They are a true team. We play as a team better than anyone and that is how it’s been built over the last 10 years. The coach and staff work very well together as a unit. It’s not easy to play the World League, you’ve got players coming from different clubs around the world. But we’re lucky as they all come back to the team at a good level. Other countries don’t have that and it’s things such as this that make the difference. We don’t have a Clayton Stanley type player. Team work is the star.

Briefly speaking about newcomers Puerto Rico, they were unlucky with the group they had, but I was still expecting a little more. It’s their first World League so maybe they were nervous and didn’t quite have the experience. It’s not easy playing at home and then travelling. They didn’t do that well but in the future they will grow. Volleyball needs new countries coming through like them.

We are always expecting a new team to come in and beat Brazil I think the US will be difficult if they make the Final Round. They are the only team in the world who have the key to unlock our tactics, and they’ve done it twice already this year, and at the Olympics in 2008.

Russia could also explode. Every year we talk about how it is going to be Russia’s year. Everyone always expects it and it hasn’t happened yet. They have the physical potential to do it.

Poland will be at home so will also be in with a shout, as will Italy who are regenerating and playing well. Not many are expecting Argentina to reach the Finals and win but they are still a dangerous side. They are not tall or physical but they play smart volleyball.

Nalbert is a former captain of the Brazilian men’s team who won the 2002 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship as well as gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2003 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Cup. He also won two World League titles in 2003 and 2004 and played in the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2008 Olympic Games. He was part of his country’s national team for almost two decades. He also featured on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour with a fourth place finish at the 2006 Marseille Open with Luizao his best result. He currently resides in Brazil and now works as an analyst on Brazilian TV.



Tom Hoff


Win over Brazil is small step to bigger things

The last weekend with the victory over Brazil was an excellent first step to developing this squad to be the group of guys we will eventually grant the monumental responsibility of qualifying for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

But in the same breath, this great win was in the past. The USA team needs to build upon this sense of accomplishment and play it forward to this coming weekend to compete against a very good volleyball team in Poland.

It was great to see some young guys stepping up. We as a team are always searching for young talent to contribute, along with the staff in an effort to begin to map out the various team roles and responsibilities leading up to the qualification process. The team strives to have guys stepping into ever increasing performance roles that will allow the team to create a positive environment of competing for playing roles.

The win is just one small step on the way to the bigger goal of the London 2012 Olympic Games. I believe the team’s plan should be solely focused on putting the best team the USA can field for the hopefully end goal of winning that gold medal match at Earls Court next year. The side is beginning to impose the work they are doing in an effort to reach their end goal. This group of guys proved that they can play at the level that is required to beat a world class team. They proved that given the right night they can put anyone away and can leverage strength to benefit them.

Coming off a big win gives you a lot of confidence and they will carry that into this weekend’s match against Poland. The visitors also rely on a very fast in-system offense much like Brazil. The biggest difference between Brazil and Poland however is ball control consistency. The Polish team seems to struggle at delivering the kind of ball control that has proved to the premier skill that differentiates good teams from great ones. In many ways, I believe we need to have a similar strategy to last week, the more times you force Poland to handle the ball, the higher the chance we will have to be able to win the matches. A huge part of why our block and defense is so successful comes from a deep team understanding of serving the appropriate person in the correct area to give the USA team the largest ability to create point scoring opportunities. We have shown a powerful team concept of certain guys being able to serve their hardest serve in the general area (think Clay Stanley serving down the line on a front row outside hitter = SCARY) and other guys having the well-defined role of consistently serving a well-placed jump float over a two hour plus match without making an error (think David Lee who can produce an equal number of point scoring opportunities).

It will also interesting to see how they play in front of their home fans. It is a shame but we play so infrequently at home so it is a great opportunity for the guys to be in a comfortable environment, and be able to spot family or friends in the arena. However, at the end of the day we as a team need to be extremely comfortable to compete in non-friendly environments, as we normally are competing against great teams along with many of their passionate fans for World events. In being successful in hostile environments like Brazil last week, it will only galvanize the foundation of our guys as a team unit. It’s great to play in the US but because we don’t have many international tournaments here, the team needs to plan on proving out their Olympic dreams by consistently winning volleyball matches away from home.

In reading the other blogs, I was amused to see the similar assessment of other top teams in the World League by one of my volleyball idols, Andrea Zorzi. Russia is for sure poised to impress their will on to future medal podiums as long as they can develop the ability to perform at the most critical moments of matches. Seeing Argentina and their wealth of younger talent bodes well for their performance well beyond the 2012 Games. The world needs to be careful with allowing the confident swagger to return to the temporary dormant volleyball power of Italy. And that wave of momentum that has carried the rich Italian volleyball history may be too large to smother now.
This is an exciting weekend of matches where we will see many teams start to earn their spots for the upcoming final round. I will be definitely watching the many good matches to follow.
Stay tuned…

Tom Hoff was captain of the USA team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and also helped his side clinch the 2008 FIVB Volleyball World League title as well as silver at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup. He has competed on the last three Olympic teams and more recently he was part of the USA coaching staff at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy. He is currently retired from Volleyball and working for Predixion Software in addition to enjoying his post-volleyball time with his five daughters in Laguna Niguel, CA.


Andrea Zorzi


Have Italy turned a corner?

After a few year of disappointment it finally looks like Italy are coming good in this year’s World League. Their approach is much better this year and the new coach Mauro Berruto is making his younger players much more passionate about the game. To achieve great performances it is necessary to firstly rely on the right attitude and only then can you focus on the right technical and tactical skills. in recent years, italy could count on some good players but, at times, they inverted their priorities, focusing on tactical and technical skills and overlooking the base of any competition game: the right attitude.

I think they have a good opportunity to win their group, in the intercontinental round and it will be interesting to see them progress over the next few weeks. I am very happy for the younger players. Dragan Travica is doing very well. He has a good serve and a good block and if he raises his setting level accuracy he could become a more complete player and, possibly, a world class setter. The libero Andrea Bari, after four or five excellent years with his club Trento, he is learning how to organise the team and now is sharing his improvements with the rest of the side, making the italian squad well organized in the back row fundamentals.

The side have won all of their matches so far because of a high level defense and block. In his blog last week Tom Hoff said that to win against the likes of Brazil you need to keep them on court for as long as possible and the way to do that is through defense and block which the Italians have worked on over the past few months.

Looking at the other teams in the group is interesting. Each has been a surprise for me. Although the Koreans are not very physical they are a typical Asian team who are very fast. They have been playing well individually so far but need to improve on their team tactics.
France meanwhile are in big trouble right now. Coach Philippe Blain has had many issues with his teams and the atmosphere is bad at the moment. The relationship between him and his team seems to have broken down and although some players have shone, like Samica who has been playing well in my opinion, in general they have been a disappointment. Before the tournament France looked favourites to take the group so it is surprising. Cuba, as usual, are showing that they have a lot of young players but not many experienced ones. They are training hard and improving fast but this is not enough sometimes. I don’t know if they can recover but it is further proof that the country can produce great young players.

As for the competition as a whole you cannot count out Brazil There are two different types of teams in the World League: whose who are focused on making the final round, and those who focus on peaking in time for the final round. Brazil is the latter. I’m not surprised they lost to the US but they are still the best in the world.

Russia are easily leading their pool which I’m surprised about as I thought Bulgaria would push them closer. Radostin Stoychev is having a lot of trouble as the side have the players to be great team. Russia has so many good players. Physically they are the best in the world and have lots of power. But we have seen over the years that they have trouble maintaining it into the Final Round. It will be interesting to see whether they can push through this year or whether they will suffer from the psychological pressure again.

But one of my favourite teams to watch this year has been Argentina. They are young but very smart in the way they play. They play like Barcelona play football, beautifully.

Andrea Zorzi is a former Italian volleyball star who won two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship with the side in 1990 and 1994 as well as three World League titles from 1990-1992 where he also won the Most Valuable Player award at both the 1990 and 1991 editions. He was also a silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and won the 1989 European Championship in a career which spanned 325 matches. After retiring in 1998, he collaborated with a number of important Italian TV networks as well as international newspapers as a journalist.


Tom Hoff


Longer USA stays on court the better the chance of beating Brazil

As USA prepare for probably their biggest match in this year’s World League so far, it is fair to say that they have been a little bit inconsistent in execution of many facets of the game, although by the looks of last week’s matches against Puerto Rico, it may be coming together for them.

They didn’t play so well on the first night against Poland and bouncing back in their second match showed excellent resilience and effort that is consistent with the never give up attitude that consumes the US mindset. However, that kind of constant adjustment is dangerous in trying to accomplish a high performing goal on the world stage. There are too many teams in the world that can play at a very high level on every given night; and our core group of performing team members must strive to have a higher level of effort, attitude, and execution if the USA desires to repeat their success on the world stage.

Obviously Brazil is one of the strongest teams in the world at the moment, so this weekend’s match is an enormous one. We’ve played them quite well in the last six years, beating them in Beijing, and part of that was learning to understand their game and using their strengths against them. They are accustomed to steamrolling teams and are less comfortable with longer/more closely contested matches so the longer USA stays on court the better our chances are at beating them. Their offense is quite simply the world class standard for pure speed of the offense and they can physically do things with the tempo of their offense from further distances off the net that all other teams strive to do. One of critical keys in being successful against Brazil is using their high speed offense against them. We achieved this by forcing Brazil to play multiple attempts on ending a point which as the match length wears on, that higher risk offense begins to create more errors and loses efficiency. The guys will for sure need to bind together as they will not only be facing a very good volleyball team in Brazil, but also some 10,000 plus passionate fans which can be intimidate the fate of heart..

One thing that will bode well for them is Clay Stanley. There is no other way of describing him other than world class. The rest of the team should take great confidence that during these difficult WL matches and the eventual Olympic qualification process, team USA will have Stanley on their side. He has shown time and time again, to rise to the occasion, when needed most at the most critical and pivotal moments of competition.

In the long run, I strongly believe they need to earn the right to compete in the Final Round to see where they currently stand amongst the world. The WL final round allows the best teams to compete under tremendous pressure, which will only facilitate the development of the guys to truly bind them together as they try to accomplish their Olympic goals.

Hopefully the team will get a huge buzz out of playing in Southern California later on in the tournament. It is the home of so many great, both current and past, American volleyball players that I would assume to have a pretty spectacular turnout for these matches. Our past Olympic teams had a tremendous responsibility in carrying USA Volleyball’s rich tradition of Olympic success and that history was built right here in Southern California. The opportunity to see the 2008 Olympic Champions compete right here in Southern California will be a memorable and historic occasion for everyone involved.

As for other teams in this year’s tournament, you have to keep a tab on those in your zone, mainly in preparation for the Olympic qualification tournaments. That’s why it has been interesting to watch Cuba develop with this group of young players. Despite a mixed start they are extremely physical in the way that they play the game which is fairly typical. The unnerving development has been this emerging focus on ball control and limiting their errors that has made Cuba a very difficult team to contend with.

Looking further afield, Italy seems to be recapturing their historical mark as a perennial favorite to win any tournament they compete in. The last few years they have lacked the consistency in the results they had when I first started playing for USA in the late 90s so it is great to see that return to excellence from Italy. Russia also has been on a several year rise with a lot of young talent which is making them a dangerous team. They do have the players and the team to win a major championship, nonetheless they need to go out and prove it to the world. And even more importantly to themselves.

Tom Hoff was captain of the USA team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and also helped his side clinch the 2008 FIVB Volleyball World League title as well as silver at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup. He has competed on the last three Olympic teams and more recently he was part of the USA coaching staff at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy. He is currently retired from Volleyball and working for Predixion Software in addition to enjoying his post-volleyball time with his five daughters in Laguna Niguel, CA.


Björn Andrae


Now is the time to beat Russia

Germany began really well last week with a win over Bulgaria and I think our chances are just as good against Russia this weekend.

For us, Bulgaria was exactly what we needed but I was still surprised. We had a very short preparation time after a long season and everyone was very nervous. The whole team played well and it was really important for our confidence, especially as we won in Bulgaria, somewhere it is usually quite difficult to get a win.

We are a young team but not without experience and everyone is still growing and maturing. We have a good mix of ages in the squad who are all really motivated and a coach who works well with everyone in Raul Lozano. Everyone knows that if they give 100% they will be in the team, and that means that everyone is giving 100% in training. Some of the players are really developing well. Patrick Steuerwald may not be the tallest player we have, but he is one of the smartest and is an intelligent player while Denys Kaliberda is likely to be around for the future, especially following the Olympics next year when some players retire.

I think if they perform as well as last weekend, the team has a good chance to come away with some points against Russia. They have also had a long season so there is more of a chance of beating them now than in a few weeks time when everyone has found their rhythm. Everybody is feeling positive.

As a whole I expect this year’s tournament to be really tight. Just looking at the results from last week it is clear that a lot of the teams are playing at a high level. Our opponents this weekend will always expect to win so if we get a good result this weekend against one of the tournament favourites then it will really boost our confidence.

As for Germany, I hope we make it to the next round. Although I am in no pain from my knee injuries I’ve been told that it will be much better if I rest a bit, so will probably miss the competition. Our goal is to make the Final Round, anything more than that would be great.

After a career highlight of playing in the Olympic Games in Beijing, Bjorn Andrae focused on beach volleyball with Marcus Popp before the 30-year old returned to indoor Volleyball to become captain of Germany during the 2010 FIVB Volleyball World League as well as the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship where he led his side to ninth and eighth respectively.



Piotr Gruszka



Poland’s matches are far from warm up games for the Final Round


The World League is always an exciting time of year for all volleyball players, and that’s especially the case for Poland this year as our country gets to host the Final Round, guaranteeing us a spot among the best teams in the world.

However, just because we have already made the Final Round, it does not mean we are taking the pool matches lightly. We treat all matches in the World League very seriously. We have a new team which is looking to win and Andrea [Anastasi, new Poland coach] has integrated himself very well into the team since joining us. He has conveyed to us his way of playing and this tournament will be a great challenge, both for him and us as a team.

The group we are in is very tough with Olympic champions USA and world champions Brazil, as well as the relatively unknown Puerto Rico, but we have a lot of respect for every team we play against. We’re expecting a lot of emotion but always look forward to winning each match.

Of course, we’ve got a great opening game with USA this weekend. They’ve arrived with their strongest roster so it means they are treating it very seriously. The matches will be tough but we want to start the competition in the best possible way, especially in front of our brilliant home fans!

Unfortunately I won’t be around for a lot of the pool stage because of surgery on my right shoulder. However, my training is going well and I am happy I am with the team. I work with them during practice as well as having individual practice.

There will be a lot of good teams that will want to come to Poland for the Final Round and it is difficult to judge who will make it. I’m sure the finals will be of a very high level and my aim is to be back in time for them. As for the team this year, the aim is to play as well as possible in order to be best prepared for the last week.


Piotr Gruszka is captain of Poland and has been playing for the side for over 16 years, earning his debut in 1995, a record for the country. The 34-year old was MVP of the 2009 European Championships as he helped lead his team to their first gold medal in the tournament. He also won silver at the 2006 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Cup in Japan and has taken part in three Olympic Games (Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008). He played in every edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League from 1998-2008 before missing the 2009 contest and returning last year.