The start of an era
"Many times when Russia won the World League we thought a new era had begun but then other teams beat them. After the Olympics, Russia confirmed their supremacy. Usually Brazil was the dominant team in international competition but now Russia seems to be in control. It is ominous for other teams if Russia are able to do this with the change of players which they had. If they find consistency in realising their potential they can dominate men’s volleyball.
"Bernardinho said after the final that Russia is like a player factory and I agree with him especially considering they also won the Boys’ U19 World Championship earlier this month. They proved that they can change eight players and the coach and still maintain a high level of performance. This comes more from having technically good players rather than an overall strategy. Russia relies more on physical and technical skill but it was still impressive that they managed to gel so quickly together and play so well as a team.
"The pace of Russia’s attack and the relationship between Grankin and Pavlov were outstanding and were the major difference. Pavlov in particular was mightily impressive. As an opposite, he’s not so big and tall as many opposites are so he has to exploit what skills he has and he was quick and agile, beating the block more with pace and guile, rather than brute strength. Historically the setter was the one major weakness for Russia but in recent years with Butko and Grankin, they have one of the best in the world and he played a superb final.
"I was also impressed with libero Artem Ermakov, who did a great job in passing, and Muserskiy. At 2.18m he is the tallest ever volleyball player. I was really impressed with his coordination considering his size. The only time you can see he is so tall is when he is walking. When he plays, he is extremely agile for such a big man. After his Olympic Games performance he now has a lot more confidence, it was evident during World League Finals week. There was no need to change positions like he did in the Olympic final. After the experience of a year ago, he now feels he can be one of the leaders in the Russian team.
"The only blip during the World League Finals for Russia was the loss to Canada. I can only put this down to switching off. Against a team like Canada you have to be focused and motivated. Russia knew after the first two sets that they stood a good chance of progressing so they relaxed, which was a big mistake. From my experience, when it comes to focus, you only have an on-off switch. You don’t have a dial where you can adjust it to different levels. The problem for Russia was that they relaxed a bit so when you are turned off sometimes you can’t find the way back to playing well again.
"After their stunning performance to win their third World League title, of course Russia are favourites for the European Championships but it won’t be easy for them. The other countries – including Italy and Bulgaria – will have a month now to prepare. The skill level during the World League and the final was not so high compared to the Olympics and previous World Leagues and this can be put down to the fact that it is the start of a new Olympic cycle and there are many new combinations within the teams so Russia will have to keep improving if they want be European champions. Remember Serbia are the current European champions after beating Russia in the semifinals in 2011 while we can’t forget about the likes of Poland and France.
"During the Finals we saw some wonderful rallies and action but what was surprising was the inconsistency which is more associated with the women’s game rather than the men’s.
"I said at the start of the Finals that Brazil wouldn’t lose to Russia because of the impressive way they played during the Intercontinental Round. However, last week they didn’t play well technically. Normally they can recover and win matches with rhythm. They were definitely playing with rhythm in the final, they kept working and striving to the end but Russia were simply too good.
"Brazil are also working with a new group of players, who are trying to avoid any comparison with the past. They weren’t lucky with the injuries to Vissotto, Dante and Eder and the other issue is the fact that they have two groups of players. Bruno, Dante and Lucas are examples of the more experienced members and the newer members of the squad who need to improve a lot. One of the key goals for Bernardinho is to find the best way to combine the two.
"It was a pity Italy didn’t take advantage of the opportunity I thought they had in the semifinal against Russia. Their performance though in the bronze medal match was impressive, especially for the youngster Vettori. To start the match in Savani’s position of wing spiker, a role he is not so accustomed to before moving to opposite and still register a Finals-high 29 points was brilliant. And hats off must go to Zaytsev. He took one for the team against Bulgaria, moving back to his old position of wing spiker to accommodate Vettori and this type of team spirit bodes well for the future of Italian volleyball. I think more success is ahead with this young and exciting squad.
"For Argentina I’m afraid there is not a lot to say but it’s the opposite for Canada. Their best ever World League result will be very important in their development process. I don’t think they can reach a very high level even if they are well organised, respecting the strategy but probably missing just a bit more competitive spirit. The culture needs to be developed also as volleyball isn’t part of their childhoods as much as the traditional volleyball countries.
"For Bulgaria, they are the best ever team not to win a World League medal. They did a great job in the Intercontinental Round and they have great quality, they just need to exploit it better. They definitely missed Sokolov who was feeling the pressure of being their main attacking weapon."
Andrea Zorzi is a former Italian volleyball star who won two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship crowns in 1990 and 1994 as well as three World League titles from 1990-1992 where he also won the Most Valuable Player award at both the 1990 and 1991 editions. He was also a silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and won the 1989 European Championship in a career which spanned 325 matches. After retiring in 1998, he collaborated with a number of important Italian TV networks as well as international newspapers as a journalist.
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