Review 2013 - Russia maintain recent dominance over Brazil in World League Finals
The FIVB Volleyball World League 2012 finished with Poland as gold medallists, USA with silver and Cuba with bronze. One year later, all three teams had already crashed out at the Intercontinental Round of volleyball’s most important men's annual competition.
Last year’s finalists Poland and the USA could do no better than finish fourth and fifth, respectively, out of the six teams in Pool A. Cuba finished a distant last in Pool B, having won just one of their 10 matches. This gives credence to the idea that the year following an Olympic Games is traditionally one of upheaval, although that didn’t stop the World League medal matches from being an exact repeat of the ones from London.
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World No. 2 Russia overcame Brazil, ranked first in the world, 3-0 in the final at Mar del Plata, having already beaten them in the opening match, but were close to an Intercontinental Round exit after suffering a 3-2 defeat to Germany. Only with the help of World League debutants Iran were they able to book their place in the Finals. Once at the Finals, the Olympic champions lost to Canada, who finished fifth, but still clinched their third World League crown.
Record World League winners Brazil were once again the outstanding team in the Preliminary Round. They suffered just one defeat in their 10 matches – at home to a rejuvenated France. Having finished sixth last year – their worst ever result in the World League – the South Americans were back on form this time out. They missed out on a record 10th World League triumph and had to settle for second place.
World No. 3 Italy have eight World League titles to their name, but must go back 12 years for their most recent success. Missing stars like Samuel Papi, Luigi Mastrangelo and Alessandro Fei, the new-look Italy side still impressed with seven victories on their way to winning a strong Pool B. Ivan Zaytsev was the top scorer in the Preliminary Round with 215 points. They overcame Bulgaria 3-2 in the bronze-medal match, but their most spectacular result was their 3-1 victory over Olympic champions Russia.
Bulgaria may have ended up in fourth place, but they were in good form. Tsvetan Sokolov particularly impressed in the Preliminary Round as the second highest scorer. Bulgaria dethroned defending champions Poland with two home wins, but in the Finals, new coach Camillo Placi could only guide his team to the same finish as last year, fourth place. “We have to change our mentality because this is the sixth semifinal we’ve lost,” a rueful Todor Aleksiev said following the bronze-medal match.
Fifth-placed Canada were the biggest surprise in the Finals. “I’m very happy with our team,” Gavin Schmitt said. “We won seven games in a row and the last one against Russia, which is great, really big for us. We showed we can play on the big stage in the world and beat great teams in the future.” The outsiders qualified from Pool C (for teams with the lowest world rankings) in a dramatic finale to guarantee their best ever finish in the World League. Joy for Canada meant agony for 1996 champions the Netherlands on their return to the competition. A 3-1 loss in the final match against Finland cost the Dutch a place in the Finals. Former volleyball superpower Japan finished bottom of the group, but did show promising signs that they may be turning things around under American coach Gary Sato as they notched three victories.
Germany, who surprised many by finishing fifth overall last year, came close to snatching the final Finals ticket from Russia. However, their hopes were finally dashed by Iran, who impressed in their World League debut. “We have shown we belong among the world’s best,” said Iran coach Julio Velasco, referring to his team’s impressive record of five wins from 10 matches. His team, along with Canada and France, were one of the surprise packages of this year’s World League.
Poland made history last year with its maiden World League title, but despite having almost exactly the same squad as 12 months ago, including top spiker Bartosz Kurek, this year’s campaign offered little cheer. They won just four of their 10 preliminary matches.
“To be honest, we do have to improve our play,” said Poland coach Andrea Anastasi. “We were bad throughout this World League.”
The anticipation is already rising for next year’s 28-team World League and while no-one can be certain about the final result, most will be confident that once again there will be of surprises.
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