World Grand Prix Groups 1 and 2 in week 3 spotlight
As the preliminary round comes to a close for Group 2 in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Pool N) and in Doetinchem, Netherlands (Pool O), the four teams which will make it to the Group 2 Final Four from August 15-16 in Koszalin, Poland, will be decided. The absolute highlight of the 30 games in total in week 3, however, are the world-class duels between the twelve teams in Group 1.
The first weekend of the preliminary round showed just how closely matched the top teams of the world are in terms of performance. Reigning champions and favourites Brazil, and, more surprisingly, Turkey, however, were undefeated in their three opening matches. In front of their home crowd, Turkey beat Olympic bronze medalists Japan, Olympic silver medalists USA and world champions Russia. “It was difficult to imagine winning all of the first three matches before the start of the competition. I am proud of all my players,” said Turkey's coach Massimo Barbolini.
Turkey has home advantage once again this weekend in Ankara, and will take on the Dominican Republic, Serbia and Germany. “We are trying to increase our level every match. Ankara fans are very important to us. I hope they will continue to support us, because we will meet strong teams again.” Serbia, however, have two victories under their belts and coach Zoran Terzic is certain that his team will reach the finals. “I am looking forward to the Final Six in Japan.” Germany are out for revenge after their unsuccessful start - including a 0-3 defeat to Serbia - and want to take advantage of their last chance to reach the finals.
Meanwhile, four teams with hopes of reaching the finals will clash in Sao Paulo. Hosts Brazil will do battle with Korea, Russia (two victories each) and USA (one victory). “I’m positive about the result of this first round of the World Grand Prix. The pool was not an easy one at all and losing even a single match could make a difference for the Final Round. Leaving the first round with nine points made me more than happy,” commented successful coach Ze Roberto. He added: “Our team has been working together for just eight weeks; we started the physical training, and from now on we’ll be working more to improve our technical skills: block, defence, and attack. But for sure we want to win every match in our home country.”
It will be the second time that volleyball superpowers the USA and Russia will go head to head when they meet in Sao Paulo. A week ago, Russia were victorious with a 3-1 win. “We're not worrying about the finals. We have to worry about getting ready to play against Russia on Friday,” said US coach Karch Kiraly.
In the third preliminary round tournament for the teams in Group 1, hosts China, Japan, Italy and Thailand will do battle in Hong Kong. No teams in this quartet are currently in the top four spots in the table of teams that will make it to the Final Six. Despite their three opening defeats, Japan can take things in their stride since, as hosts, they are automatically qualified for the finals from August 20-24 in Tokyo.
“Our team is getting better and better. We have to be prepared for the next weeks,” said Japan's captain Saori Kimura.
China's coach Jenny Lang Ping also hopes that her team can improve with home advantage: ”Our team is young. We will make improvements as the games progress.”
On the second of three preliminary round weekends in Group 1, definite decisions will be made on who will receive the four tickets to the grand finale. The top four teams will be joined in the finals by hosts Japan and the winner of the Final Four from Group 2.
In Group 2, only the Netherlands are undefeated in all six of their matches after two of three preliminary round weekends, and, as a result, have already secured their ticket to the finals of Group 2. They are followed by Puerto Rico, finals hosts Poland and European Championship runners-up Belgium. The Pool O tournament in Doetinchem, which will bring these four teams together, will be a good test for the finals. Belgium’s Lise Van Hecke said: “It’s important to reach the Final Four. But we are also thinking about the World Championships next month. This will be the other big highlight for us and all the other teams.”
In the other pool in Group 2, hosts Argentina take on Peru, Canada and Cuba. With three victories, Peru could keep their slim hopes of reaching the finals alive. One thing is certain, however, for each of the 28 teams participating in this top-class FIVB World Grand Prix. Peru captain Angela Leyva: "We play these matches against the best teams of the world and improve every day."