Three favourites, a debutant and plenty of drama
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 29, 2013 - The whole of Poland is already dreaming of a gold medal for the home team at next year’s World Championship, but first they have a far more important goal in 2013: the 24th World League.
Last year’s surprise World League triumph triggered huge celebrations throughout the country. It was, after all, the first major international volleyball title since their Olympic victory back in 1976. Poland is once again among the hot favourites to win this year, especially as only legendary setter Pawel Zagumny is missing from last year’s winning team. Bartosz Kurek, the Most Valuable Player of last year's Finals, Zbigniew Bartman, Marcin Mozdzonek and company are fired up and ready to go ahead of the opening match against the Brazilian ball wizards.
Having finished sixth last year – Brazil’s worst performance ever – the nine-time World League winners are hungry for revenge. However, coach Bernardo Rezende must do without retired stars Giba and Sergio, as well as Murilo. The point-machine is not ready to play after shoulder surgery. The coach’s son Bruno takes on the responsibility of captaining the team.
After the upheaval of personnel, his father is looking to assemble a team that can once again challenge for the World League title, which they last won in 2010. Brazil will be particularly keen to take revenge on Russia. Having led the Russians 2-0 with two match balls, the world No. 1 eventually lost the Olympic final in London so Bernardinho’s side will be out to settle the score in the World League.
However, the two teams cannot meet until the World League Finals, which will be held from June 17 to 21 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. This is because the third favourite to win the World League Russia has been drawn in Group B. Captained by the match winner from the Olympic final, Dmitriy Muserskiy, the team is under the guidance of new coach Andrey Voronkov. The Russians last won the prestigious competition, which features the best national teams in the world, in 2011.
Last year’s World League finalists USA also have a new coach in John Speraw. He brings with him a well-known assistant, in the form of former beach volleyball star Matt Fuerbringer. Speraw sees the World League as more of long-term preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games, doing without star player Clayton Stanley as he looks to build for the future.
Last year’s surprise package, Germany, is also looking ahead to major events in the future. The Germans have also opted to rest superstar Gyorgy Grozer and captain Bjorn Andrae. The same applies to eight-time World League winners Italy, who are without experienced stars Samuel Papi, Luigi Mastrangelo and Alessandro Fei. Last year’s fourth-placed team, Bulgaria, also has a new man at the helm, with former assistant Camilo Placi replacing Nayden Naydenov as head coach.
Cuba takes on the role of dark horse in this year’s World League, having finished third in 2012. The Caribbean team’s only previous World League victory came back in 1998. Fifteen years down the line, all eyes will be on the exciting and youthful side to see if they can better last year’s incredible performance.
One nation very capable of springing a surprise is Argentina. The hosts of the Finals will be hoping the appointment of former top spiker Maros Milinkovic as assistant coach will give the team in the blue and white shirts an extra boost. The squad also includes Ivan Castellani, whose legendary father is no longer the coach of fellow World League participants Finland.
Only six teams will progress to the Finals in the Islas Malvinas competition hall in Mar del Plata. As host, Argentina is already guaranteed their place at the final showdown in the country’s largest and best-known coastal resort. A further two tickets will be up for grabs in Group A, which consists of Brazil, Poland, USA, France and Bulgaria. Two teams will also progress to the final round from Group B, which features Russia, Cuba, Italy, Germany, Serbia and Iran.
Group C is made up of teams from lower down in the world rankings – the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Finland and Portugal. The Netherlands, Olympic champions and World League winners in 1996, are back in the competition for the first time since 2010. After missing out on qualification for the Olympics last year, Japan has turned to a foreign coach for the first time – American Gary Sato, who does, admittedly, have Japanese roots.
Only the winner of this group will take its place in the Finals. This year’s World League will also open with a match from this pool: hosts Finland will meet Portugal at 18:30 local time on Friday in the Helsinki Ice Hall. As well as growing in size from 16 to the record number of 18 teams, this year’s World League will also be played in the format last used in 2011. The only difference being that the top three world ranked teams in each pool will play three matches at home and two away with the bottom three world ranked teams playing twice at home and three times away.
This time around, a win in the Preliminary Round would be a success for Velasco and Iran, who booked their sport in this year’s competition after advancing through the qualification process alongside the Netherlands. Just as it has done since 1990, the World League will provide the perfect preparation for next year’s FIVB Men’s World Championship in Poland.