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Review 2013 – China's women, Brazil's men win inaugural U23 World Championships

Confetti falls on the awards ceremony at the Women's U23 World Championship
 Lausanne, Switzerland, December 31, 2013 – As part of an end-of-year review series, www.fivb.org looks back at the FIVB Volleyball U23 World Championships.

Women's U23 Championship
There is little doubt that for China’s female national teams 2013 has been a year to remember. While Chinese playing and coaching legend “Jenny” Lang Ping was brought in to stimulate the fortunes of the women’s senior team, her very presence back at the Chinese Volleyball Federation has also worked wonders for the motivation and fortunes of the women’s age-group teams. 

Their gold at the inaugural FIVB Women’s U23 World Championship in Mexico completed a full set of age-group medals this year and showed that there is a wealth of talent just below senior level waiting to burst through into China's full national team. 

In the gold-medal match against the Dominican Republic at the Baja California High Performance Center in Tijuana, China won in straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 26-24). Liu Yanhan and Zhang Xiaoya each scored 17 points, while Zhang Zou added nine and Gu Xinwei and Wang Qi contributed eight apiece. 

Earlier in the year, the gold rush for China began at the FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship in Brno, Czech Republic. Xu Jiande was again in charge of a team that swept the board and finished with a flourish as they beat Japan in the final. Later in the summer, it was USA who were China’s final opponents at the FIVB Girls’ U18 World Championship in Thailand and while they, too, fought hard, it wasn’t enough to avoid a 3-0 defeat in the final.

Men's U23 Championship
In the men’s age-group tournaments, only Brazil’s win at the FIVB Men’s U23 World Championship ensured that the titles wouldn’t also be dominated by one country. Russia had already won the U21 and U19 World Championships and went into U23 World Championship confident they could add the inaugural title to their list of honours. 

But Russia hadn’t reckoned with host nation Brazil and their legion of vociferous fans that filled the Arena Presidente Tancredo Neves in Uberlandia throughout the competition. They roared their favourites on to a 3-0 triumph in the semifinals, a victory that stopped Russia’s drive towards a third age-group title in the same year. 

Brazil’s gold-medal match against Serbia was anything but straightforward as the East Europeans twice fought back to force a tie-break before Brazil won 3-2 (29-27, 15-21, 21-17, 19-21, 15-13 – the tournament was used to test the 21-points-per-set rule). 

Opposite Rafael Araujo led Brazil with 23 points and was assisted by captain Lucarelli who scored 12 and middle blocker Otavio Henrique Pinto who weighed in with 11. Serbia captain Aleksandar Atanasijevic led his team brilliantly with 25 points, but it wasn’t enough to get past a rampant host nation. 

“The game was very difficult, as we imagined, but we were prepared technically, tactically and we worked hard. It was a big victory,” Brazil coach Roberley Leonaldo said. “The rebuilding of the Brazilian team is continuous, it’s not always obvious and it’s always a job done working with young players alongside the principal team, training together and playing competitions that the principal team wouldn’t play. This competition showed this work.” 

Russia did manage to hold off Bulgaria in the bronze-medal match with a 3-1 win and coach Sergei Shliapnikov is now looking to see how his charges can help sustain Russia’s remarkable run of success at senior level. 

“This bronze medal is good for the team,” he said. “We had some problems building up this squad, as three players stayed in Russia. Some of our players here might even make it to the senior team.”

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