World League week 5: Volleyball superpowers Brazil and Russia under pressure
Defending champions and Olympic gold medalists Russia, who are on eight points, host the impressive Serbians, who have 11 points, in the crucial duel for second place in pool B on Friday and Saturday. And it is pretty much last chance saloon for record FIVB World League winners Brazil, who are on eight points, when they travel to Poland, also on eight points, in pool A. The Brazilians need a win to keep alive any hopes of qualifying for the final round as one of the top six teams.
Brazil have won just three of their previous eight matches in the preliminary round, and are staring down the barrel of the country’s worst result in its 25 starts at the annual showdown between the top teams on the planet – a failure that could also mean losing the world number one spot. "We are working hard to eradicate our mistakes and are looking to improve in Poland. However, it will be a very tough battle," said Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende. Ranked number five in the world, Poland, hosts of the FIVB World Championship from August 31 to September 21, are heading in the right direction under new coach Stephane Antiga. The Poles overcame the previously undefeated Italians 3-2 and 3-1 at home last weekend.
"We have a big group of good players, who train together on a high level and keep pushing each other to play even better. And now we are looking forward to the fight against big Brazil," said Antiga. The Polish Volleyball Federation is extremely happy with the job being done by the Frenchman, who only brought the curtain down on his playing career a few weeks ago, stepping straight into the role of national team coach. The impressive displays have added to what was already a huge enthusiasm for volleyball in Poland – the 15,000 plus tickets for the opening match against Brazil on Friday in the new Krakow Arena sold out within a matter of minutes. And Sunday’s second match in Bydgoszcz will also feature grandstands packed with fans in the red and white of their national team.
The second of the two games between Poland and Brazil, which starts at 19.30 on Sunday, is also the FIVB “Match of the week”. The seven Matches of the Week will be distributed by IMG free of charge to all major international networks and the host broadcaster. The matches will include English commentary and will be shown live and on demand on FIVB Web TV.
The second duel in this pool sees rising volleyball nation Iran (seven points) take on the dominant group leaders from Italy (19) in a sold-out venue in Tehran, as they bid to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the final round. Italy is already looking ahead to the final round, from July 16-20 in Florence, for which the hosts are already confirmed as the first of six teams.
This also means that three teams will qualify from this group for the final round of the FIVB World League. They will be joined by two teams from the other “super pool” B and the winner of a final round contested between teams from pools C, D and E on the weekend of July 11-13 in Sydney, Australia.
In pool B, world number four the United States are on course for the final round, courtesy of six wins from six matches. And there is every chance they will remain unbeaten: the Americans host winless Bulgaria on Friday and Saturday. "We look to keep getting better as the second half of pool play starts," said USA captain Sean Rooney.
The same obviously applies for Russia who, having opened their campaign with four defeats, returned to something like their old form with two 3-0 wins over Bulgaria last weekend. "We are waiting for Serbia," said Russian captain Sergey Makarov. Two wins would see his team leapfrog their rivals and move into the all-important second place. However, Serbian captain Dragan Stankovic remains optimistic: "I hope we can still go to the Final Six."
In pool D, where this weekend marks the penultimate weekend of the preliminary round, the duel between France (20 points) and Argentina (17) will go a long way to determining who wins the group. France, who suffered their first defeat of this year’s FIVB World League against Germany last weekend, travel to Japan for their matches on Saturday and Sunday, where the hosts are still waiting for their first win. Benjamin Toniutti, French captain: "We are tired, much more than at the beginning of the World League. There are two weeks left and we want to be number 1 in our pool." On paper, Argentina’s away game against Germany promises to be a tougher task.
And pool C is also a two-horse race between Belgium (13 points) and Canada (10). Neither team can afford to slip up in their home matches against Finland and Australia respectively.
Pool E features two big games this weekend: surprise leaders Portugal (12 points) host the Netherlands (11) on Saturday and Sunday. "We have already produced some fantastic performances in this FIVB World League season. We want to back them up now," said Portuguese coach Hugo Silva.
Pools F and G have no matches in week 5, as the outcome of the preliminary round has already been decided. The final round will take place next weekend in Bursa, with the semifinals between hosts Turkey and Slovakia, and China and Cuba. Cuba were finalists in the 2010 World Championship – losing out to volleyball superpower Brazil, who are struggling to hit top form at present.