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Colombia coach Rizola hungry for more

Rizola is pleased with the recent progress Colombia has demonstrated internationally
Lausanne, Switzerland, September 24, 2020 – Every emerging team in the world needs one big result to get noticed and solidify the perception that things are changing. And the Colombian women’s national team had its own special moment 13 months ago.

Slowly climbing their way up the FIVB World Rankings, Las Cafeteras (the coffee makers, in Spanish) impressed onlookers at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, when they upset continental powerhouse Brazil in the semifinals to advance to their first final at the multi-sport event.

That historical victory, their first-ever against Brazil, and the silver medal the team went on to win were key. Experienced Brazilian coach Antonio Rizola, who has been with the team since the end of 2016, said it had played an important role in strengthening the squad’s mentality.

“When we defeated Brazil, I got very emotional and started crying like a kid,” he said. “It wasn’t because it was Brazil on the other side of the net, but because it validated everything we as team believed. To me, if you consistently play against the best, one day you will be able to beat them. And after you do it for the first time, you start believing you can do it again. It was a great push for us and it certainly improved our own faith in what we are doing.”

Ecstatic Colombian players celebrate their first-ever win over Brazil at last year's Pan-American Games

The change of mentality and the boost of self-confidence among the Colombians started with Rizola’s arrival. On his first day with the players, he asked if they thought they could beat Brazil one day. 

The answers to his unexpected question weren’t necessarily encouraging, but more than using words, the players demonstrated they had adopted their new coach’s mentality with their actions in the following days.

“From my first day here I saw the willingness and the commitment to change things from everyone, from the Federation’s directors to the players,” said Rizola. “We had some questions and doubts along the way, which is normal, but the players have always been very determined to do whatever it takes to progress, and that’s one of the reasons the team has accomplished what it has.”

Rizola’s main goal for his first years in charge was to qualify Colombia for its first Olympics. Las Cafeteras got agonizingly close, nearly downing Argentina in the South American Qualifier they hosted in Bogota in January.

They fell short, but the South Americans, now ranked 19th in the world, won the South American Games in 2018, finished second at the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in the same season and secured silver medals in back-to-back editions of the South American Championships in 2017 and 2019.

The recent results have generated a different level of respect from opponents, another sign that growth is taking place.

“Before the pandemic started, we received invitations from three top European national teams to go there and play them,” the coach revealed. “Last year, when he arrived in Peru to play at the Pan-American Cup, the United States reached out and said they wanted to play a friendly with us before the tournament started. That shows the level of respect these teams have for what we’re doing and their desire to understand why we’re progressing so much, which to me indicates we’re headed in the right direction.”

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