“Best ever”: USA and the sport of volleyball are winners as the FIVB World League celebrates its 25th anniversary
“The 2014 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League has been the best ever, bringing the competition to a bigger and increasingly enthusiastic audience,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°. “The new formula has produced a very tight and exciting competition, which is always an important component of being able to promote the sport successfully.” Best proof of this: it took until the dying seconds of their final two preliminary round matches for the two finalists, USA and Brazil, to qualify for the Group 1 Finals, which saw the top six teams go head to head.
“The World League’s new formula, including 28 teams and split into three groups, has been a big success. The competition has attracted 50% more spectators and record attendances, including a spectacular match outdoors in Rome, which saw 11,000 spectators gather at the Foro Italico to see hosts Italy take on Poland in Pool A,” FIVB Sports Events Council President Mr Aleksandar Boricic commented. “The FIVB continues to work on different ways of taking the sports of volleyball and beach volleyball to new levels, and will continue to explore new solutions to achieve these goals.”
The final round in Florence provided emphatic evidence of just how close the competition is between the top volleyball teams in the world. No team came through the event at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium undefeated. Big favourites and Olympic champions Russia saw their challenge disintegrate in the preliminary round. The Russians finished behind newcomers Iran, who ended the final round in an impressive fourth place, having defeated Brazil in the preliminary round. “It is the best Iran has ever done at the World League. We came ninth last year in our first ever World League and now we have made the bronze medal match. That's very good for us. Maybe next year we can have a go at making it on to the podium,” said Iran's libero, Farh Zarif.
Hosts Italy were not entirely happy with bronze – after all, the eight-time World League winners had their sights set on a first triumph for 14 years. Despite enthusiastic home support, however, the Azzurri were steamrolled 0-3 by Brazil in the semifinal. “We are still ambitious, and we still think we’re a great team who can win tournaments. Now we have to prove it. At least we ended our tournament with a victory,” said disappointed setter Dragan Travica. Record winners Brazil also ended their campaign on an unsatisfactory note. Despite producing a fantastic semifinal appearance, they once again came up short of winning a tenth FIVB World League title, which they have been chasing since 2010. The USA were simply too good, winning the final 3-1 in front of 9,000 fans.
“The USA were able to control the game. It was a lesson for us and we are frustrated, but congratulations to them. We have a lot of things to work on ahead of the World Championships. We have made some strides, but we need to be more consistent to compete at that tournament,” said Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende.
In contrast, the mood in the USA camp was one of pure joy. After watching Cuba win the final for the Group 3 teams and Australia the Group 2 final, the US team picked up the winner's jackpot of one million dollars. Taylor Sander, who was the top scorer in the final with 24 points (followed by Matthew Anderson with 23), bagged an extra 30,000 dollars as the MVP. Far more important than the money, however, was the fact that this was the USA's second World League triumph, after 2008, and it came after losing to Italy in straight sets in the preliminary round. “It's unbelievable, unbelievable – I am lost for words,” said David Lee. “We are a great team and our players are very young.”
USA coach John Speraw was already looking ahead: “I'm thrilled for my guys, I couldn't be more happy. Looking ahead to the World Championships, it's a confidence booster. It's an opportunity to get on the podium.”
As far as the statistics are concerned, there is a good chance – 66.66 per cent, to be precise – that the USA will win the title at the FIVB Men’s World Championships from August 30 to September 21 in Poland. In four of six cases (1990 and 1994 Italy, 2006 and 2010 Brazil) the winner of the FIVB World League went on to win the FIVB Men’s World Championship in the same year. Brazil, however, has the opportunity to become the first team in the history of the tournament to win gold four times in a row. To date, only one team has won the World Championship after finishing runner-up in the FIVB World League in the same year: Brazil in 2002.
As such, excitement is still guaranteed in this record year and we can also look forward to the 26th edition of the FIVB World League from June 5 to July 26, 2015. Pool A will feature two of the most successful countries in the 25-year history of the World League. World No. 1 and nine-time champions Brazil will be joined by eight-time winners Italy, Serbia and Australia, who replace Bulgaria after winning Group 2. In Pool B, defending champions USA will take on 2013 champions Russia, 2012 champions Poland and rapidly improving Iran. The make-up of the remaining five pools will be confirmed in the near future. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be a thriller!