Coaches agree that Russia are the team to beat at Men's Grand Champions Cup
That said, Russia’s coach Andrey Voronkov does not underestimate the challenge ahead: “The very best teams in the world have come together here in Japan for this edition of the World Grand Champions Cup so this means that we will play five difficult, though interesting matches. We did not have much time to prepare for this tournament because we have a very tight schedule in our national league, so this competition will turn into a challenge right from the start,” he said. On Tuesday Russia will open the tournament going for a remake of this year’s European final with Italy. “If I have to single out a reason for our supremacy, I would say that though there are many other strong teams out there, we can count on a very strong and wide group of excellent players. This means we always have a few options and there is a lot of competition also within the team. My task is to make the best out of a group which has a huge potential,” Voronkov continued. Quite surprisingly Russia are making their first appearance in the competition whose first edition was held in 1993.
Russia’s first opponent in the tournament will be Italy whose mentor Mauro Berruto also did not have any chance to work with his players prior to the start of the competition. “They played their last game in the national league four days ago and the first time I got to meet my players was at the airport and not in the gym,” he joked. “However, we are extremely motivated and want to show that we deserve the wild-card we received from FIVB and the organizers. This competition is a unique opportunity for us to see where we stand as we play the world’s volleyball elite. We have a young group that has been improving recently and this tournament is another step on our way to the World Championship coming up next year in Poland and, of course, to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” Berruto added. Similarly to Russia, Italy has also collected a series of medals on the international stage following up on their Olympic bronze at London 2012 with another third place at this year’s World League Finals in Mar del Plata and a silver medal at the European Championship in Denmark. Italy won the inaugural edition of the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup in 1993 with their “golden generation” before they finished in third place at their last appearance in 2005.
Triple world champions Brazil are another strong contender for the medals as the players mentored by Bernardo Rezende will try to prolong their winning series in the competition after topping the charts in 2005 as well as in 2009 (their first victory dating back to 1997). “We also did not have much time to prepare for this tournament as we only had two weeks to work all together back home in Brazil,” Rezende said. “This competition is a good opportunity for us to test some young players and to continue with the development of our team. I think Russia are the favourites of this tournament and Italy has also been strong in recent times. I would also watch out for Iran because they have been improving a lot over the last couple of years” the Brazilian mentor added. His goal will be to make sure Brazil add another chapter to their success story for they haven't missed a medal since the Grand Champions Cup was first played in 1993 (they won gold three times and have two silver medals to their credit as well).
On Tuesday Brazil will play Iran in their first game at Kyoto Prefectural Gymnasium and the Asian champions look forward to upsetting the South American giant. “We are very pleased with the opportunity to play this tournament,” said their legendary mentor Julio Velasco. “We have been working hard to play with the world’s elite and finally we can say that here we have the opportunity to play the best teams in the world. Two years ago we won the Asian Championship for the first time and we got the right to play the World Cup here in Japan. We performed quite well and since then we have not stopped working hard to progress as much as we can. My young players are very motivated and of course very happy to be here. Two months ago we won the Asian Championship for a second time and this way we got the possibility to join this competition that everyone has been very much looking forward to.” This is Iran’s second appearance in the Grand Champions Cup after they finished in fifth place four years ago.
The hosts Japan are also in the spotlight especially after their women's team finished their campaign on Sunday with a bronze medal to cement their comeback to the top. This year the Japan Volleyball Association (JVA) decided to go for a major change and for the very first time they appointed a foreign-born coach to steer the team. US American Gary Sato has Japanese roots but does not speak Japanese at all. “I would like to thank FIVB, the Japan Volleyball Association and NTV for putting all this together,” he said while addressing the many media in attendance at the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel. “This tournament is an opportunity and also a challenge at the same time for our team. We hope we can show good spirit, be competitive and passionate, because this is what is necessary to play the best teams in the world.” Japan won bronze four years ago for what is their only medal in the competition since the Grand Champions Cup was established in 1993.
On Tuesday the home heroes will open their campaign playing the NORCECA Champions USA. Thousands of fans will be in attendance as Kyoto is welcoming an international volleyball tournament for the first time in 24 years. “We have seen Team Japan play and we're very impressed,” said US American head coach John Speraw. “They play really hard and I have to say that Gary has already done a good job as he has somehow changed their style. They still play very good in defense but they also show great power in their actions. Team USA did not have any chance this year to play any of the top teams who are here because we did not make the World League Finals and they also weren’t in our preliminary group. We are very excited and very happy going into the tournament and hope we can show our best,” Speraw added. Team USA's best result dates back to the 2005 edition of the World Grand Champions Cup as they won a silver medal to improve on the fifth place they had claimed in 1993.