Historic success for Mexico
After all, their first game in the FIVB World Grand Prix took place at the Olympic Gymnasium Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City on Friday, where they were matched up with Kenya. Their other opponents in the first weekend of their first participation in the World Grand Prix were Algeria and Bulgaria. The games should prove to be the perfect preparation for their seventh appearance at the FIVB World Championships.
Mexico's best result at a world championship was a tenth place in 1974 at the tournament organised in their country. That result triggered enthusiasm for volleyball in Mexico. Now Mexico are working their way back to the top of international volleyball. "Women's volleyball has awakened, it has been very fast and intense work with Professor Jorge Azair and the girls have a lot of determination," said Jesus Perales Navarroi, President of the Mexican Volleyball Federation (FMVB).
They proved this at the play-off tournament for the final world championship ticket. After three commanding victories against Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua, the team also held their nerve when they came up against hosts Trinidad and Tobago, unbeaten until that point. The 3-0 result (25-14, 31-29, 25-17) was only briefly in doubt in the second set. Mexican coach Miguel Jorge Azair said: “We won against a very good team. Mexico played very hard and they were extremely focused. The girls showed hunger.”
Mexico's women also won the majority of the individual awards at the tournament. Lizbeth Sainz, who was the top scorer in the final with 16 points, was voted Best Attacker and also collected the prestigious MVP award. Others who collected prizes for the champions were Lizbeth López (Best Receiver), Claudia Resendiz (Best Setter) and captain Andrea Rangel, who was voted Best Opposite. However, the competition will be tougher at the World Championships and Mexico are the underdogs in one of the most even groups in the preliminary round. Mexico have been placed in Group G, with defending champions Russia, the USA, Thailand, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan.
“It will be an extremely difficult task, but we are trying to prepare perfectly,” said Azair. After all, the Mexican Volleyball Federation has a vision: it wants to be a major world player in Volleyball by 2030. The association does a lot to promote the sport in the country, which is predominantly obsessed with football. Major events have been targeted time and again in recent years, particularly focusing on the junior team, one of the most recent examples being the FIVB U-23 World Championships. And in recent days, the U-17 Beach Volleyball World Championships were hosted by Acapulco. The investment in talent development and attempts to increase public interest in volleyball are starting to pay off.
The men qualified before the women. In 2010, Mexico secured a ticket to the FIVB World Championship for the first time in almost three decades via the playoffs – which resulted in a respectable 13th place overall. They qualified directly this time and have used their first ever participation in the FIVB World League to prepare for the World Championships.
Mexico's qualification for the Men's and Women's World Championships represents another step in the right direction as the country aims to become one of the sport's elite nations.