Ground breaking volleyball year ahead for Finland after World Championship qualification
There is already huge demand for tickets to the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014 from August 30 to September 21. Organised trips will be run to the tournament, with the Finnish Volleyball Association expecting at least 1,000 fans to travel to the event.
Finland Volleyball Association (FVA) Sports Director Antti Paananen explained: “2014 will be the volleyball year of all time in Finland. It will be heavy for the team, but rewarding at the same time. We are now in there with all the best teams in the world.” The entire country, which has a population of just five million, is proud of the historic success. And it comes as a timely boost, as the national teams in other prominent ball games, such as football and basketball, have still never qualified for the final round of a World Championship.
FVA President Arto Satonen – a member of the Finnish parliament – stressed the importance of the success for the entire country: “A place at the World Championship is a really remarkable achievement for us. People play volleyball all over the world and we are a small country – the smallest European country to compete at the World Championship in Poland.” And yet the Finnish men pulled off the coup, defeating the Ukraine and Greece 3-1 at the European third round qualifying tournament in Poprad, before holding their nerve to triumph 3-2 in the decisive game against hosts Slovakia. As well as setter Mikko Esko, the entire defence was outstanding.
“I am very proud of my players and staff,” said Finland coach Tuomas Sammelvuo. “We were always behind in this tournament, but we came back to beat all of our opponents. This shows our good attitude and that we are mentally strong.” Attacker Olli Kunnari will now prolong his international career at least until the World Championship finals on the back of this fantastic success: “This is absolutely one of the greatest moments in my volleyball career, together with the fourth place at the 2007 European Championship in Moscow.”
The Finnish team has been participating regularly in the FIVB World League since 2006. Competing in the prestigious annual competition for the top teams in the world has propelled the Suomi team to a new level. “We must remember that this is the result of persistent work in Finnish volleyball. We really didn’t make all this possible in just one year. When you work with the right attitude, the reward will come someday,” said Sammelvuo.
The team has been a regular at the European Championship since 2007. International coaches have helped with the further development in recent years: Italian Mauro Berruto was the head coach of Team Finland from 2005 to 2010 and Argentinean Daniel Castellani from 2011 to 2012.
In March 2013, Sammelvuo, a former captain of the national team, took the helm after bringing the curtain down on his playing career in many top international leagues. It was also a learning process for the coach: “It has been a hard year for me to get to know myself as a coach and admit my weaknesses. It has been a real battle with myself.” The fact that he has progressed so far is down partly to his parents, who travelled to Poprad with the team.
“With Sammelvuo the whole team has grown. He has done great work with us and for us. A big thank you to him,” said captain Antti Siltala, singing the praises of the young coach.
Satonen agrees: “Tuomas Sammelvuo has taken the team another step forward.”
The year 2014 will reveal just how big this step was. The FIVB World League 2014, where Finland will come up against Belgium, Canada and Australia, will provide the perfect preparation for the World Championship finals. The Finnish team’s best result in its previous sixth appearances was eleventh place back in 1952, and the Finns have set their sights on springing another surprise this time round. “This team has already shown it is capable of anything. It can overcome any difficulties. It is so solid,” Sammelvuo said.
Siltala added: “This is a tough team and we have grown up to this level. If we play well, we can win no matter which team is on the other side of the net.”
Whatever happens, the Finnish fans will be right behind their team.
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