Same Olympic matches, different World League teams
Mar del Plata, Argentina, July 21, 2013 - The medal deciders at the 2013 World League Finals are exactly the same as last year's matches at the 2012 Olympic Games as Brazil and Russia play for gold, while Bulgaria and Italy go for bronze. Here volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi looks ahead to some of the key points.
"While the matches might be the same, there's been some major personnel changes since the prizes were handed out a year ago in London. Leading the way in terms of newcomers are Olympic champions Russia, whose 12-man 2013 World League Finals squad contains just four of the players that claimed gold in London.
"Only Sergey Grankin, Dmitriy Muserskiy, Maxim Mikhaylov and Nikolay Apalikov were in both squads, and the changes are due largely to new coach Andrey Voronkov who replaced Vladimir Alekno after the 2012 Games.
"Both Brazil and Italy have also made significant squad changes since last year's medals, but Bulgaria, having made coaching changes and started a new player cycle before London, have maintained the largest number of players from their 2012 squad as they look to win their first ever World League medal.
"Key to Bulgaria's chances of a first medal success after four previous failed attempts is the play of dangerous opposite spiker Tsevtan Sokolov. Bulgaria's attacking system relies heavily on his performances, but at the 2013 World League Finals his spiking averages have steadily decreased.
"In Bulgaria's opening-round 3-1 win against Argentina, Sokolov scored 29 points with a 65% success average, but that number dropped to just 21.4% in his team's 3-1 semifinal defeat, forcing coach Camilo Placi to replace him at the end of the match's third set.
"In order to return to his early competition figures, he needs to get into situations where he can strike the ball as high as possible over the block and as long as possible into the court. Sokolov's spike variation will also be important, as predictable attacks are easier for defenders to manage.
"The gold medal match between Brazil and Russia is not only a repeat of the last Olympic final, but also a repeat of the opening match at the 2013 World League finals.
"Given the number of changes among the respective teams' squads since the 2012 Games, the match between them in Mar del Plata is the better indicator of how the 2013 World League could be won or lost.
"Russia's powerful serving and its consequences on the rest of Brazil's play was the key to their 3-2 victory on day one of competition. The graph above shows Brazil's reception averages for their three matches in Argentina and the influence of Russia's serving, putting pressure on the Brazilian receivers, is clear in the percentages.
"In the final, Brazil will need to reverse this statistic and increase their reception percentage in order to pressurise their opponents.
"This puts a lot of responsibility on the trio of Dante - who is highly experienced but injured his right knee towards the end of the semifinal win against Bulgaria, libero Mario and Lucarelli.
"Brazil's youngest player Lucarelli is likely to receive the most attention from Russia for two reasons: first because his reception percentage (31.4%) in the previous match against the Olympic champions was the lowest of the three players mentioned above, and second because he - unlike Mario - also has an attacking responsibility which isn't easy to manage with limited big-match experience."