The big three from 2012 come up short
Lausanne, Switzerland, July 15, 2013 – Poland, followed by the USA and Cuba – that was the final result of the 2012 World League. One year later and all three of the top teams have already crashed out in the preliminary round of the pinnacle of international volleyball.
Last year’s finalists Poland and the USA could do no better than finish fourth and fifth out of the six teams in Group A. Cuba finished a distant last in Pool B, winning just one of ten matches. While on the one hand, this was to be expected as the year after the Olympic Games is traditionally regarded as one of upheaval it is also further proof of just how evenly matched the teams are at the top of the sport.
The 90 matches in the preliminary Intercontinental Round once again had an enthusiastic following of hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadiums and millions more around the world on TV. The dramatic battle to qualify for the final round came right down to the last of the preliminary round’s seven match weekends.
“To be honest, we do have to improve our play and complete our game system. We were bad throughout this World League,” said Poland’s coach Andrea Anastasi, who also announced new goals for the 2012 champions – a gold medal at the 2013 Eurovolley.
Poland made history last year with its World League title but despite having almost exactly the same squad as 12 months ago, including top spiker Bartosz Kurek, this year’s campaign was nothing to write home about. The ten preliminary matches produced just four wins – exactly the same record as the USA. The Americans, however, were at least able to point to the absence of a number of stars, including Clayton Stanley, and having a new coach at the helm in John Speraw.
“We trained really hard, but it didn’t work out,” said Speraw, summing up his team’s campaign following its closing defeats in Rio de Janeiro. Record World League winners Brazil, were once again the outstanding team in the preliminary round. The Brazilians suffered just one defeat in their ten matches – at home against the rejuvenated French. Having finished sixth last year – their worst ever result in the World League – the South Americans will start the Final Round from July 17 to 21 in Mar del Plata as favourites. Coach Bernardo Rezende has set his sights on a historic tenth triumph in the World League. As well as hosts Argentina, they will also face Olympic champions Russia, eight-time winners Italy, Bulgaria, and outsiders Canada.
The Canadians qualified from Group C, for the teams with the lowest world rankings, in a dramatic finale to guarantee their best ever finish in the World League. Joy for Canada meant agony for 1996 champions the Netherlands on their return to the competition. A 1:3 score in the final match in Finland cost the Dutch a place in the prestigious Final Round. Former volleyball superpower Japan finished bottom of the group, but did show promising signs that they may be turning things around under their new American trainer, notching up three victories.
The same and more can be said of Italy. The Azzurri have eight World League titles to their name, but must go back twelve years for their most recent success. Missing stars like Samuel Papi, Luigi Mastrangelo and Alessandro Fei, the new-look Italians impressed with seven victories on their way to winning Group B. Ivan Zaytsev was also the top scorer in the preliminary round, with 215 points. One result, in particular, caught the eye – the 3:1 victory against Olympic champions Russia, who eventually limped into the Final Round. The team still showed weaknesses under new coach Andrey Voronkov, and also lost against Cuba, who were otherwise winless, and Germany.
The Germans, who surprised many by finishing fifth overall, last year, were close to snatching the final ticket to Argentina from Russia. However, their hopes were dashed by Iran, who impressed on their World League debut. “I am satisfied with the performance of my players in this World League. We have shown we belong among the world’s best,” said Iran’s star coach Julio Velasco, referring to the impressive record of five wins from ten matches. His team, along with Canada and France, was one of the positive surprises during this year’s Intercontinental Round.Also in fine form were the Bulgarians, who included the preliminary round’s second highest points scorer in Tsvetan Sokolov. They dethroned defending champions Poland with two home wins last weekend. New coach Camillo Placi now travels to the Final Round on the back of seven victories. Bulgaria finished fourth in 2012, making them the best-placed team from last year and a dark horse to claim this year’s title.