Poland and Italy coaches Andrea Anastasi and Mauro Berruto will extend their rivalry and friendship on Sunday in the opening day of the men's competition
London, Great Britain, July 27, 2012 – Poland and Italy are set to contribute the major highlight of the men’s volleyball tournament once the competition gets started at Earls Court this coming Sunday. After cruising through a marvelous campaign in the FIVB World League that eventually culminated in the final round held in Sofia, Poland is seen as one of the major contenders for the Olympic crown at stake here in London and the local volleyball family definitely hopes for a remake of the glorious days from Montreal 1976.
Even though he knows his guys are seen as the pre-favorites of the Olympic tournament, coach Andrea Anastasi remains down-to-earth and opts for a low profile attitude. “For the time being I am focused exclusively on the first match against Italy and I pretend the same approach also from my players” he says. His long-time friend and Italy’s mentor Mauro Berruto insists on the special atmosphere surrounding the Olympic tournament. “The joy for being here is simply unique. You can really feel that magic that is the real quintessence of the Olympics. We do want to perform well here in London because this is much more than an ordinary volleyball tournament; we are here to represent our country and we feel that responsibility”.
Australia and Argentina will be playing the third match on schedule for Sunday at Earls Court and as everyone already knows, that game will turn into a family affair opposing Australian coach Jon Uriarte and his son Nicolas, one of Argentina’s up-and-coming stars. “The local volleyball family in Australia is very excited since we qualified for the Olympics and it is just great to be here for such a young group of players. As for the game with Nicolas, there is no way to express our feelings, especially since on Sunday we’ll be surrounded by our family and friends to celebrate that special moment. I think this is a nice story to tell for the sport in general, not exclusively for volleyball, and we feel very lucky for being given the chance to live this moment” says Jon Uriarte.
“We were assigned to a very strong group but our goal remains to make it through Pool play and advance to the quarterfinals” adds Argentina coach Javier Weber. “There are a lot of positives we can take from the sparring match we played yesterday with the USA; I think this was the best way for us to get ready for our opening match against Australia” he continues, hoping to extend the tradition that sees Argentina lead 2-0 in the head-to-heads with the guys from “Down Under”, the last game dating back to the 2007 World Cup in Japan.
The competition in Pool A will actually start on Sunday morning with the home guys of Great Britain playing Bulgaria. “We are here since we represent the host nation of this Olympiad whereas all of my colleagues have gone through a very demanding qualification process” singles out Team GB coach Harry Brokking. “My players are evidently excited to play in front of the local audience and our goal is to cause some surprises and upsets, but first we have to play some good volleyball”.
Bulgaria is quite notoriously missing its absolute superstar Matey Kaziyski here in London but the group around coach Nayden Naydenov remains a very strong competitor to reckon with. “We also share the feelings of our opponents, being very proud for being here, and we want to play our best to achieve the maximum result we can take from this competition” says former international star Ljubo Ganev.
What about the iron group, Pool B? Russia, Brazil, the United States have openly stated their intention to go for Olympic glory here in London and the competition will be tough right from the start of the prelims.
Germany’s coach Vital Heynen joked at today’s press conference as he was the very last one taking the floor: “I hope that by the end of the tournament I will be in a different position than at this table as I am the last one in the row. We all know we have a few tough matches ahead but we definitely want to enjoy this Olympic experience” says the Belgian coach who, since he started mentoring the group this past April, has contributed a series of outstanding results. Russia will be the first opponent for Germany on Sunday, joining the Olympic scene at 11:30 and the always physically imposing players around Vladimir Alekno will be trying to improve on their good record which sees Russia having won 17 out of 20 matches played with Germany in official FIVB events.
Team USA and Serbia will be playing the second match scheduled for day 1 of Pool B on Sunday. “We are here with a very young team and do not have any of the superstars that Serbia was known for in the past. However, we still have our own dreams and our first goal is to make it out of the preliminary phase” states coach Igor Kolakovic. The US Americans are the gold medalists from the previous Olympics in Beijing and Alan Knipe also shows his joy and pride for being part of this Olympic adventure. “It really feels good to be here and even though we know we have been drawn to a Pool that includes some of the best teams in the world, we nevertheless feel we can go for a good performance here at Earls Court”.
To round out Sunday’s program, the triple world champions and 2008 silver medalists of Brazil will be playing Tunisia. The “carioca” are coming off a pretty disappointing campaign in the FIVB World League where they missed out on a medal for the first time in many years and the group has been widely criticized by the media as well as by the fans. “We have been working very hard for the past three weeks to fix our problems and even though we will be confronted by extremely strong squads, we still know we can produce good quality out there on the court” points out Bernardo Rezende. Questioned about the possible final standings of the group where Brazil may not end up atop of the charts given the competition brought by Russia and USA, he adds: “This is an Olympic event and your ranking in the prelims does not make much difference as you anyway will be playing a very tough opponent in the quarterfinals. Our primary goal is to make it out of Pool play and then take on the next steps of the tournament”. As for Tunisia, the darkhorse of the group will use this Olympic appearance also as a unique opportunity to carry the hopes of the African volleyball family as stated by their coach Fethi Mkaouar. “It is just great to be at the Olympics and even though we know the terrific quality of the other teams, we’ll do our best to defend the honor of Tunisian, African and also Arab volleyball”. The Volleyball events of the 2012 Olympic Games are joined by 12 teams per gender. The top four ranked coming out of the prelims will advance to the knockout phase starting with the quarterfinals, proceeding with the semis and culminating in the final matches