Russian dominance ends as Brazil back at number one
After winning last year’s Olympics in London, then adding victory in the World League and the European Championship title in 2013, the top favourites had to ‘settle’ for second place against their biggest rivals in the sport this time around. “We played against some very good teams here and are now No. 2 in the world behind Brazil,” commented Russia’s captain Sergey Makarov.
Russia’s coach Andrey Voronkov was also more than happy with the team’s record at the end of his first year in charge of the Russian national team. “Our national team fought together in the World League, European Championships and now here. This tournament has proven our position as a national team,” he said. He also pointed out that their goal had also been to win every game at the tournament in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Maybe the Russian men were a little nervous ahead of their first appearance in this competition, which is traditionally held in the year after the Olympics, as they opened with a 1-3 defeat to Italy in a repeat of the European Championship final. They then recovered from this set-back to post four victories. These included a 3-2 win over Brazil, after trailing 0-2, in a game that brought back memories of the dramatic Olympic final in London. The Russians were once again able to turn the game around courtesy of some intelligent substitutions and, above all, the 2.18-metre tall Dmitry Muserskiy, who ended the tournament as the MVP.
However, even this prestigious win on the penultimate match day was not enough to give the Russian giants overall victory with 11 points, as Brazil refused to lower their guard scoring a total of 12 points. The South Americans achieved their long-awaited triumph with a hard-fought 3-2 win against Italy – a victory that had them quite literally dancing with joy. This was the Brazilians’ fourth successive success at the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup, following wins in 1999, 2005 and 2009. And it was perhaps the biggest win of all.
“I'm very happy that we won the tournament. It was a roller coaster of emotions for us after the loss against Russia. We came back 15 hours after losing and won, which is amazing. We have some new players in the team, but had good focus in the tournament,” said star coach Bernardo Rezende. For the Brazilians who are so used to success, silver at the Olympics and runner-up in the World League – otherwise fantastic results – felt more like failures. The website for the Brazilian Volleyball Federation showed just how important this success was: a huge banner with photos of the successful men and ladies, who also won their World Grand Champions Cup, along with the words “Brazil, on top of the world” was plastered across the entire page.
This takes some of the heat off star coach Bernardo Rezende. His son and team captain Bruno, who directed the show magnificently out on the court and, along with Wallace and Lucas, was one of the main reasons for Brazil’s success, revealed the secret behind the team’s success: “We all share the same attitude and values. The strength of the group and not the skills of one or the other player is what makes the difference for Brazil. This way we keep winning and I hope we will also continue to do so in the coming years.” The number one goal is obviously to win the 2016 Olympic Games in their home country, in Rio de Janeiro.
Father and son Rezende both believe that the gold project will reap rewards. However, the Grand Champions Cup once again showed just how evenly matched the teams are at the top of the men’s game. As well as Russia, bronze medallists Italy are also definitely on the up with 9 points. The Azzuri, playing in the tournament courtesy of a wildcard, matched both top teams all the way, and were still in with a chance of snatching overall victory come the final match day.
“We have won the bronze medal. I am extremely proud of our effort in this tournament. We always have to consider the starting point of a project. We came here with young players and did well,” said coach Mauro Berruto.
“In the end, it was only a lack of experience in the team, led by the outstanding Ivan Zaytsev, which prevented them from pulling off the biggest shock. I'm happy we are on the podium, because we showed we can play with high-level teams. But we have to focus on the tiebreaks from now on, as we lost all three here,” said Italian captain Emanuele Birarelli.
Italy not only lost 2-3 to Brazil, but also to the US and Iran. The Asian champions were the second positive surprise of the tournament. Star coach Julio Velasco’s team won three of its five matches to finish fourth overall and prove well and truly that they belong among the top teams in the world. “It is our first time playing in such a high-level tournament. I am very proud of our players. All of Iran is proud of them,” the coach commented. The Argentinean has achieved a lot since taking over, but possibly his biggest achievement has been to instil a winning mentality.
“Iran is playing very hot right now. They have been together for three years with a great coach and have kind of emerged under the radar,” praised Japan’s coach Gary Sato following his side’s 0-3 defeat. In stark contrast, the usually successful US team has always been in the spotlight. The Americans are going through a period of reorganisation and had to settle for fifth place behind Iran. Even with the outstanding Matthew Anderson, by far the top-scoring player of the tournament, the USA was unable to compete with the best teams in the world.
“We wanted to finish the tournament on a better note. We learned a lot at this event,” said USA captain Sean Rooney. Anderson is hoping better times are just around the corner: “I am excited for next year and the future. We can do some great things with this team.”
Japan undoubtedly have a long journey ahead of them if they are to make it to the top – despite the support of the home crowd, the hosts won just one single set against the US in all five games. Japan’s Tatsuya Fukuzawa:
“Throughout the tournament, we were poor when it came to side outs. Our serve and passing ability was not good. It was easy to attack us with the high block. We were more reactive than active. We have to improve for the future.”
The next opportunity comes in 2014 with the World League, at which Russia are the defending champions, and the World Championship in Poland. Brazil go into the World Championship having won the last three titles. As such, the duel at the top looks set to continue.