Review 2013 - Brazilian brilliance dominates World Grand Champions Cup
Brazil’s men and women once again showed that they know how to peak for the big occasion when they claimed the gold medals at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup in Japan. The sixth edition of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Grand Champions Cup was held from November 12 to 17 in Japan’s cities of Nagoya and Tokyo and was followed soon after by the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Grand Champions Cup from November 19 to 24 in Kyoto and Tokyo.
The competition featured six teams in both the men’s and women’s competition, comprising the hosts, the four 2013 Continental Champions from continents whose teams reached the highest ranking in the preceding Olympic Games and a wild-card team, jointly selected by the FIVB, the Japan Volleyball Association (JVA) and the Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV). Africa did not have an automatic spot in the tournament having finished the 2012 Olympic Games as the lowest-ranked confederation amongst the five.
Brazil went into the men’s tournament as the red-hot favourites, having won three editions of the quadrennial World Grand Champions Cup (1997, 2005 and 2009). Only Italy and Cuba have stopped the South American powerhouse from totally dominating the competition since the World Grand Champions Cup was first introduced in 1993.
It was a similar story for their female counterparts who were hoping to add the World Grand Champions Cup title to their 2012 Olympic Games gold medal and FIVB World Grand Prix victory from earlier in the year. With the absence of reigning champions Italy, the path was wide open for Brazil to add the one missing trophy from their cabinet.
In the women’s tournament Brazil were up against hosts Japan, Russia, Dominican Republic, USA and Thailand, while the men faced Olympic champions Russia, Italy, Iran, USA and Japan.
“It’s going to take some work to win against all our opponents,” said José Roberto Guimarães (Ze Roberto), coach of Brazil’s women’s team ahead of the tournament. “We’ll be up against continental champions – with the exception of the Dominican Republic who are still tough opponents and have a Brazilian coach. Japan are always a tricky team with their defence and technique, while Asian champions Thailand always make opposing teams work hard. Then you have the United States and Russia, who are the strongest teams in the competition.”
Brazil’s men’s coach Bernardo Rezende was equally circumspect about his team’s chances and was happy to talk up the hopes of Russia, the team that had beaten Brazil in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the gold-medal match at the 2013 FIVB Volleyball World League.
“We did not have much time to prepare for this tournament as we only had two weeks to work together back home in Brazil,” he 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 for this tournament and Italy have 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.”
Rezende was right to be cautious as Russia repeated their 3-2 victory from the 2012 Olympic Games in London to put the skids under Brazil’s hopes in the fourth round of matches. However, the South Americans responded with a 3-2 win over Olympic bronze medallists Italy to claim the title in the round-robin tournament by a single point.
“I’m very happy that we won the tournament,” Rezende said. “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.”
There was some consolation for silver medallists Russia when the 2.18-metre Dmitry Muserskiy was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Italy showed that they are moving back to the top of the sport by winning the bronze medal.
“In the end, it was only a lack of experience in the team which prevented us from pulling off the biggest shock,” Italy captain Emanuele Birarelli said. “I’m happy we were on the podium because we showed we can play with high-level teams, but we have to focus on the tie-breaks from now on, as we lost all three here.”
Brazil’s women didn’t have quite the same struggles as their men did. In fact they were truly dominant and won all five of their matches, dropping only two sets against the Dominican Republic and Russia. They rounded off the tournament with a 3-0 win over hosts Japan, after which middle-blocker Fabiana Claudino was named tournament MVP.
“We adjusted during the match,” said coach Ze Roberto. “We adjusted our block and defence and the players’ focus at important moments. In my mind it means I can relax back in Brazil. In Brazil, second place and last place are the same.”
In fact, the final results mirrored the 2012 Olympic Games podium with USA taking silver and Japan delighting the home crowd with their bronze-medal finish. “Throughout this tournament, we adopted a new strategy,” captain Saori Kimura said. “We can see the merits of that but we can also see some issues we have to deal with. These points are now very clear, so we have to adapt for next season and reflect on what we’ve learned in this tournament and this year.”