Serbia: A volleyball heavyweight set sights on medals at World Championships
Lausanne, Switzerland, January 13, 2013 – On
Christmas eve in 2013, the Serbian men’s national volleyball team was named its
country’s ‘Team of the Year’ – a telling sign of the huge role the sport plays
in the Balkan state.
6,500 spectators flocked to their home stadium in Nis, with far more watching the action live on the Serbian National Broadcasting Company (RTS), to see their men’s team defeat Portugal to secure their ticket to the final round of the FIVB World Championship from September 3 to 21 in Poland. Prior to this, the hot favourites had also defeated the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia 3-0.
“Sure, we had some pressure in this tournament, but there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to qualify for the World Championship,” said Nikola Kovačević, receiver in Serbia’s men’s team. The team – including its time under the name of Yugoslavia – has now qualified for its fifth straight World Championship since 1998. Since then, the team has established itself as one of the heavyweights of the international game. Besides Brazil, who have won gold at the last three World Championships, Serbia is the only country to have reached the semi-finals on four successive occasions.
Led by captain Nikola Grbić and rookie Ivan Miljković, the Yugoslav men’s national team reached the finals in Tokyo in 1998, winning their first medal ever at a World Championship – silver behind Italy. At the next two World Championships, in 2002 in Buenos Aires and 2006 in Tokyo, the Yugoslavian team – later to become Serbia and Montenegro – took fourth place. At the 2010 World Championship the Serbs won their second medal and first bronze in the country’s history. They then added another bronze at the 2013 European Championship.
Perfect preparation for the highlight of this season comes once again in the form of the FIVB World League (which starts May 23), in which four-time runner-up Serbia will take on defending champions and Olympic gold medallists Russia, the USA and the consistent Bulgarians in Pool B.
Head coach Igor Kolakovic is reluctant to go so far as to promise another podium finish at the World Championship: “There will be so many good teams at the World Championship, so I cannot promise anything. It will be very interesting to see how it turns out.”
Zoran Terzic, head coach of Serbia’s women’s team said: “Since 2002, we have not missed any of the major world competitions. It would have been a shame if we had not qualified this time. We succeeded and we are happy about that. We didn’t perform well, but we gathered without any time to practice, so that’s quite normal.” And history shows that the Serbs will be more than just dark horses at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014 which will take place from September 23 to October 12.
After a long break of 28 years, the Serbian women’s team, at the time still playing as Serbia and Montenegro, caused a major shock by winning the bronze medal at the 2006 World Championship in Japan. The “Blue Ladies” then finished eighth at the 2010 World Championship.
Third place at the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix
proved that the Serbs belong among the top teams in the world. The prestigious
annual competition between the best international volleyball teams – this time
with a record number of 28 teams – will also provide the perfect preparation
for the highlight of the 2014 season. Serbia will be up against the other
eleven highest-seeded teams – defending champions and world No. 1 Brazil, USA,
Japan, China, Russia, Italy, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Korea, Turkey and
Thailand – who will play in round-robin tournaments (each with four teams).
“There is plenty of time to prepare for the
Championship, and I am sure that we will be ready,” said Terzic.