1998: Hat-trick gold winners Italy and Cuba successfully defend their titles
Lausanne, Switzerland, August 14, 2014 - In 1998, the two FIVB World Championships were held in the same country again for the first time in 24 years. Japan were the hosts, but neither of their two teams lived up to expectations. The women finished in eighth place, while the men only managed 15th – a great disappointment for the land of the rising sun.
In the men's tournament, all eyes were on the outstanding Italian team for the third time in a row. With their victory in Tokyo, they became the first nation in the history of the FIVB Men’s World Championship to clinch a title hat-trick. Four players – Andrea Giani, Andrea Gardini, Ferdinando De Giorgi and Marco Bracci – contributed to Italy's three gold medals and as such are part of a select group of just seven players who have achieved this feat.
A majority of the Italian stars had voluntarily stepped down after the defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in the final of the 1996 Olympics. Even coach Julio Velasco took his leave. In Japan, the team was led by the new head coach Bebeto de Freitas. The team was defeated by Yugoslavia (0-3) in the preliminary round, but when it came to the crunch, the team stepped up. In the semifinal, Brazil were beaten 3-2. In the final, Italy got their revenge on Yugoslavia, outclassing them to win 3-0.
“It is difficult to express the emotions that we got to feel on that day,” said Italy's star Andrea Giani looking back. “We really wanted to win especially since Velasco was no longer with us. We wanted to show that we had learned our lesson. We wanted to show to the world that our approach, our attitude, our mentality were still the same and that we could follow Julio’s instructions even though he was no longer at the helm of the team. The fact that we claimed a third consecutive title and only four players were still there from the group that had won in 1990 also tells you a lot about the quality and depth of our team.”
Spain may have finished eighth, but the star of the tournament was Rafael Pascual, who claimed the Most Valuable Player and Best Scorer awards. Olympic winners the Netherlands, who finished in sixth, were also among the defeated teams. Cuba won bronze, but the men from the Caribbean island were overshadowed by the women's team. There was no beating “Las Morenas del Caribe”, just like four years earlier.
After cruising to the semifinals, Regla Torres and her teammates had their first real struggle against Brazil, beating them 3-1. In the final, however, they defeated China 3-0. Russia won bronze after beating Brazil 3-1. The team celebrating their second successive set of gold medals included legends such as Torres, Mireya Luis and Yumilka Ruiz.
From the “out of this world” Cuban team, Regla Torres received the MVP and Best Blocker awards, while Ana Fernandez was named Best Spiker. Antonio Perdomo received Best Coach. No one could imagine this outstanding team ever losing its dominance, but this is exactly what would happen at the next FIVB Women’s World Championship. Croatia - including Barbara Jelić - finished sixth at the World Championship, the team's best result result. The 16th and lowest position in the ranking went to a great volleyball nation, the United States.
Read about earlier editions of the World Championships by clicking on the links below:
1994: Cuba and Italy claim World Championship titles
1990: Last World Championship title for the Soviet Union and first for Italy
1986: USA bring a halt to East European dominance
1982: The Soviet Union and China win gold at World Championships
1978: Italy and Cuba step into World Championships spotlight
1974: Poland surprise favourites to win Men's World Championships
1970: Surprise World Championship gold for the German Democratic Republic
1966 and 1967: Soviet Union empty-handed for the first time
1962: Japan’s ladies produced “volleyball from another planet” to end the dominance of the hosts, the Soviet Union
1960: Volleyball fever in Brazil, both World Championship titles go to the Soviet Union again
1956: Czechoslovakia claim trophy in Paris
1952: Soviet Union win double gold in Moscow
1949: Soviet Union win inaugural World Championships