How serve and spike control can decide the semifinals
Mar del Plata, Argentina, July 20, 2013 - For the first time in World League history, Italy, Russia, Brazil and Bulgaria comprise the final-four, but the semifinal match-ups are much more common as the respective semifinalists were grouped together during the competition's Intercontinental round.
The main graph shows us that Italy have the best ace/faults serving ratio of all final-four teams in the 2013 Finals, however 10 of their 12 aces came in the 3-1 win against Argentina.
In comparison, six of Russia's seven aces came in their opening-match 3-2 win against Brazil, where the pressure they applied from serving was far superior than in their surprise 3-2 defeat by Canada.
Statistically, Italy can expect a Russian performance closer to the Brazil match than the Canada one, which means Italy will have to control the serve well and give their setter a chance to bring hitters Ivan Zaytsev, Simone Parodi and Cristian Savani into the match.
The teams shared their two matches, both in Russia, during the Intercontinental round, but Italy won the first match 3-1 - winning the third and fourth sets comfortably - while Russia's 3-2 win was 15-12 in the tie-break after four sets that all went down to the (two-point) advantage.
Bulgaria's total of faults on serve (41) is the worst of all final-four teams, but their ace/faults ratio is about twice that of their opponents Brazil.
The key area of the second semifinal seems to be blocking and killing statistics. Brazil have the lowest killing attacks average of all final-four teams, while Bulgaria's - driven by the point-scoring threat of Tsvetan Sokolov - is joint highest.
Bulgaria's alternative attacking options dropped below the team's overall percentage in their 3-1 defeat against Italy, with Todor Skrimov (38%) and Todor Aleksiev (22%) not threatening enough, so defending Sokolov is crucial for Brazil.
Brazil's attacking percentage was heavily affected by Russia's dominant serving in their first match of the finals series, while key spiker Vissotto missed their second match against Canada with a swollen left knee.
Notably, Brazil have been more effective with their blocking play than Bulgaria during the finals. Both teams have played eight sets in the finals, but Brazil have produced fewer faults and kept the ball in play from blocks more often.
Middle blockers Lucas and Eder are the basis of Brazil's defensive game, combining size, agility and the ability to read the intention of the opponent's attacking plan. As Bulgaria rely heavily on the point scoring of Sokolov, Brazil's blocking game is made easier.