Kovac and Iran eye surprise in Italy
Florence, Italy, July 15, 2014 - Iran's volleyball team may face an uphill battle in the FIVB Volleyball World League Group 1 Finals, which start on Wednesday in Florence, Italy, but their challenge represents a mere step towards a medal at the 2016 Olympics.
Serbian Slobodan Kovac took over as Iran coach earlier this year and has already taken his team to Italy twice during the World League Intercontinental Round where they were on the losing side in straight sets on both occasions|
The team led by Serbian Slobodan Kovac was a surprise qualifier from Pool A, ahead of nine-time winner of the competition Brazil and 2012 champions Poland, coming second after heavyweights Italy.
"We started the competition as an underdog - with Brazil, the number one seed, Italy, the third, and Poland, number six, in our group," Kovac told AFP at a training session in Tehran's Azadi stadium before arriving in Florence.
But in twin four-game series Team Melli more than proved their talent, beating the Brazil and Poland sides twice, and losing twice.
The FIVB Volleyball World League Group 1 Finals, from July 16 to 20, pits Iran against Russia, an invincible force in the past two years, and once again against Brazil, who in 2016 will host the Olympics.
Kovac wants to show "quality" and win at least one game this week.
"It is possible," he said. "We must respect our opponents but should not be afraid of them. We have a big appetite and we will play our best game in Italy."
Iran's main stars are captain Mir Saeed Marouflakrani, 29, and Mohammad Mousavi, a 26-year-old who is considered as best defender of the season so far. But passer Shahram Mahmoudi has been ruled out after spraining his left ankle.
"We have gained a lot of confidence in the past year," Mousavi said, arguing that Iran's moment of triumph was beating Brazil and Poland.
Everything is planned
Mahmoudi, a rising star at 24, said his absence would not affect the team's performance.
"They will fight to be in the final four. We can do it because the team is not dependent on one or two players," he added.
Iran's volleyball federation sees the tournament as a stepping stone.
By appointing the decorated Argentine coach Julio Velasco in 2011, it brought up a generation of talents and set eyes on glory by winning a medal in Brazil in 2016.
"Everything has been planned," said Mahmoudi of the strategy.
Velasco's Iran won two Asian championships in 2011 and 2013, and participated in the 2013 World League, clinching victories against Cuba, Italy, Serbia and Germany.
He left in February to coach his home country, which failed to qualify for the Finals.
After Florence, the Iranian outfit will play in the World Championship in Poland, from August 30 to September 21, and then the Asian Games from September 19 to October 4 in South Korea.
But to improve further, Iran's players must gain international experience, according to Kovac.
In European clubs, for example, "they will have to fight for a starting place, whereas in Iran their spot is guaranteed," he said.
Mousavi could be the first to move abroad, with interest from Turkey's Fenerbahce, and Italy's Modena.
Marouflakrani is considering an offer from a club in Ankara, while Milad Ebadipour has been approached by Verona.
Thanks to its rise to world-stage competitions, interest in volleyball has rapidly grown in Iran in recent years, and Kovac suggests it may become the number one sport in the Islamic republic, overtaking football.
"It's now difficult to get coffee in a shopping centre because so many people approach you and want to take photos, or just say hello," he said.
Other FIVB news
- Angela Leyva in rising orbit ahead of 2017 Grand Prix Group 2
- Bidding process for 2017 World League Finals launched
- World Championship beckons for Dominican Republic, Argentina and Cuba after U23 Pan Am Cup
- Ahead of 2017 Grand Prix European squads excel in continental qualifiers
- Trentino 4th in Italian Supercup ahead of Club Worlds
- World League hopefuls all advance to European Championship finals
- China, Iran top preliminary-round pools in AVC Cup
- Ze Roberto to stay on as coach of Brazil women's team
- Change of guard for Venezuela's men's National Team after departure of Nacci
- One month on, Rio in our hearts
- China confirm Olympic supremacy with Asian Cup title
- Men's Club World Championship takes on Olympic flavour as rosters are unveiled
- Looking back: China win Olympic gold
- Mauritian Volleyball League sees two first-time champions
- Japan, Thailand top pools at AVC Cup for Women
- Kenia Carcaces back at Volero Zürich
- Giovane Gavio happy to be coaching Brazil U-21 team
- 2017 World Grand Prix draw completed - Olympic champions China to play silver medallists Serbia in Week 3
- Increase in teams and record prize money headlines World Grand Prix Council meeting
- Referee preparation programme praised
- President Graça hails successful World Grand Prix Finals in Thailand
- FIVB Volleyball House wins award for best hospitality house of Olympic Games in Legacy category
- Olympic final rematch confirmed as 2017 World League draw completed
- We must continue our exceptional growth - President Graça
- Quality and consistency key to success of a global World League
- Rio 2016 stars to descend on Manila for Club World Champs
- Argentina win U23 Men’s Pan American Cup
- Argentina and Cuba to play for gold in Men's U23 Pan Am Cup
- Semifinals set in Men’s U23 Pan American Cup
- Volleyball Australia prepares for Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle
- FIVB survey translated into five languages
- Smashed, tied, revised or still standing: The Records of Rio 2016
- Dominican Republic win NORCECA U18 title in dramatic fashion
- Pools and schedule outlined for Men's Club World Champs
- Trentino, UPCN and Bolivar join top teams at Men’s Club World Champs
- Argentina, Cuba get direct access to Men's U23 Pan Am Cup semifinals
- Chile, Cuba and Colombia get solid victories at Men's U23 Pan Am Cup
- A month after opening, Brazil still bask in Rio 2016 gold glory
- One month after first serve, memories of Rio still stay strong
- Men's U23 Pan Am Cup opens third edition in Guanajuato
- New Tech: The most eagle-eyed coaches at Rio 2016
- Russia women win EuroVolley U19 to earn world champs spot
- Kim Yeon-koung learning lessons from Rio
- Brazil victorious in front of more than 30,000 fans as Serginho says farewell
- Zhu Ting nominated for Sportswoman of the Year Award
- 2018 World Championship qualification process continues this weekend
- Clay Stanley latest of USA's 2008 golden boys to retire
- 2016 Men's Club World Championship match schedule confirmed
- Bank Sarmayeh win Asian Men's Club Championship to secure 2017 World Championship berth
- Sada Cruzeiro and Minas Tênis Clube to host 2016 edition of Men's Club World Championship