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Preview 2014 - Russia set sights on Women’s World Championship treble

 
Nicaragua are one of a record 141 countries who are participating in the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship qualification process
Lausanne, Switzerland, January 2, 2014 – Olympic gold, victory at the World Grand Prix, and success in the World Grand Champions Cup: Brazil’s volleyball ladies have won every title on offer of late. As such, it is almost impossible to believe that the skillful South Americans are still waiting for their first ever World Championship title. If the form book is anything to go by, however, this is all set to change this year when Italy hosts the highlight of the 2014 season – the 17th FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship from September 23 to October 12.

“After the dream year we experienced in 2013, it goes without saying that we will be striving to finally get our hands on this title,” said Brazil’s successful coach Ze Roberto. However, a glance at the history of the World Championship reveals exactly why Ze Roberto is wary of the threat posed by one team in particular: defending champions Russia. The Russian giants defeated Brazil in the final to win the World Championship title in 2006 and 2010, meaning the Brazilians’ three silver medals (including 1994) remain their greatest success to date in the World Championship. “Russia is difficult every time. They are very talented. They have not had all their top players on board recently, however,” was Ze Roberto’s assessment of his arch-rivals.

The relative lack of top players resulted in the Russians having to ‘settle’ for the European Championship title in 2013 – they failed to qualify for the final round at the Grand Prix and are still yet to claim a podium at the Grand Champions Cup. Talisman Lioubov Sokolova-Shashkova made her comeback at the latter of these events. And, with a view to a possible hat-trick of World Championship titles, the tournament in Italy could see one of the tallest volleyball ladies of all time return to the team: 2.02m tall Ekaterina Gamova. Her possible inclusion in the squad is the subject of much discussion among volleyball fans in Russia.

“It may take some time. At the moment we need to communicate a little bit more with Ekaterina. Thereafter, we will draw certain conclusions. This season she is, as always, the leader of her team. Gamova is one of the best players in our Super League,” said national coach Yury Marichev. Alexander Yaremenko, Secretary General of the Russian Volleyball Federation, wants to see both old hands on board for the World Championship: “We are in the era of longevity in the sport now. I think about 30 years is the golden age for volleyball players. Luba is a good acquisition for the Russian team. As for Gamova, she decided to stop playing for the team, but her plans have changed now.”

Russia’s female volleyball stars have their reputation as the most successful nation in the history of the World Championship to defend: together with Russia’s predecessor – the Soviet Union – they have won a total seven titles. Cuba and Japan have both triumphed on three occasions, China twice, and World Championship hosts Italy once (2002). The Squadra Azzurra is a new-look Italian team, built around top attacker Valentina Diouf, who was the highest-scoring player of the final round of the World Grand Prix with 110 points.

China finished second behind Brazil at the World Grand Prix, making them one of the favourites to challenge at the World Championship. The team has made remarkable progress in a short time under the guidance of the returning “Jenny” Lang Ping, who won silver as the US coach at her home Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Also on the up again are the Japanese, who were still in contention for the title at the Grand Champions Cup until the decisive duel against Brazil (0:3). The skill level of Japan improved a lot in recent years, especially since winning bronze at the London Olympics. Technique-wise they are a very dangerous team for us. So I feel some kind of threat to us, especially in the 2016 Rio Olympics,” said Ze Roberto of the Asians. They are hungry for the title, having last won World Championship gold back in 1974.

It goes without saying that Olympic silver medallists USA, whose most recent success at the World Championships came in the form of second place in 2002, are always hotly fancied. However, volleyball legend Karch Kiraly’s team must first secure qualification. The five qualification tournaments in the NORCECA confederation (each with four teams) will not be played until May and June. The winner of each group will qualify for the World Championship, while the group runners-up go through to a play-off for the final place from July 2 to 7. It is straight down to business in the new year in Africa, where the destination of the two World Championship tickets will be decided in two tournaments, each featuring seven teams. In Europe, it is a case of now or never at the tournaments in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Poland, Croatia and Bulgaria from January 3 to 5. The five pool winners plus the two best runners-up will travel to the tournament in Italy. 

Nine countries have already booked their places: host Italy, defending champions Russia and Germany from Europe, Brazil and Argentina from South America, and Japan, China, Thailand and Kazakhstan from Asia. A record number of 141 countries took part in the qualifying process for the World Championship – a big increase on the 101 that did battle for a ticket to the finals in 2010. 

Italy will host the women for the first time ever. As one of volleyball’s strongest and proudest nations, the best of women’s volleyball will have a wonderful stage to perform on, especially after an outstanding standard was set during the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in 2010. A total of six cities - Rome, Trieste, Verona, Bari, Modena, Milan - will host the FIVB’s premier tournament for women.

The FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship will feature 24 teams divided into four pools of six teams for the first round, which will be a round-robin system over five days – three matches per day - with four cities (Rome, Trieste, Bari and Verona) hosting a pool each. The top four teams of each pool will advance to the second round (in Bari, Trieste, Verona and Modena), where the 16 teams will be split into two pools of eight (top two of Pool A and B, third and fourth of Pool C and Pool D), with the top three of each pool advancing to the third round.

The top three teams from the two second-round pools will advance to the third round with the winners, placed in each pool, while the second and third will be drawn. The third and final round will consist of a round-robin system, with the top two teams of each pool advancing to the semi-finals before the final takes place in Milan on October 12. Will this be the day, on which Brazil wins its first ever World Championship title?

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