Brazil out to become the first team to win four titles in a row
Even the start of the 18th FIVB Men’s World Championship has taken on historic proportions this Saturday. A record 62,000 spectators are set to pour into the huge National Stadium to watch the opening match between hosts Poland and Serbia. Tickets for this extraordinary event sold out within just 100 minutes – a first indication of the level of anticipation and enthusiasm ahead of the first FIVB Men’s World Championship to be staged in Poland.
“You will see a level of entertainment and engagement never seen before. We would like to take volleyball into a new era, building up towards the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, and the World Championship this year will be our launch pad,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°.
And from a purely sporting point of view, the FIVB Men’s World Championship also promises to provide drama in abundance. Brazil’s ball magicians can smash their way into the volleyball history books. No team has ever won four titles in a row – something the hosts of the 2016 Olympic Games can achieve this time around. The last time the World Championship trophy went to a different country was back in 1998, when Italy was victorious. Since then, the Brazilians have won a hat-trick of titles in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
“I hope we will continue to win,” said Brazil’s star coach Bernardo Rezende. However, the South Americans will face a stern test. Their opponents in the opening match of the preliminary round, Germany, will be a real test on Monday, and go into the tournament with the clear goal of winning a first medal since claiming the title back in 1970. The Russians, in particular, are also hungry for the title – they have won most of the major competitions over the past two years, with an especially sweet victory in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, when Russia came back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 in the final against Brazil.
With six titles to its name, Russia’s predecessor the Soviet Union is the most successful nation since the first World Championship title was played out in 1949. However, it is now 32 years since their last gold medal in Buenos Aires in 1982. As such, it is about time for this volleyball superpower and its 2.18m star Dmitry Muserskiy to win the sport’s most important title. Especially as the dress rehearsal at the FIVB World League a good month ago ended in disappointment. Defending champions Russia were not represented in the semifinals, and the USA pulled off a shock 3-1 victory over hot favourites Brazil in the final.
The USA is one of the teams which is hoping to emerge from the shadows of the big duel of recent years between Russia and Brazil. USA and their top scorer Matthew Anderson won their only World Championship title back in 1986, and have been waiting for a medal since their bronze in 1994 – too long for a country so used to success. As far as the statistics are concerned, there is a good chance – 66.66 per cent to be precise – that the United States will win the title at the FIVB Men’s World Championships. 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.
Among the other medal hopefuls is the young and ambitious Italian team, who finished third at the Olympics and the FIVB World League and feature the heavy-scoring Ivan Zaytsev. Prior to Brazil’s dominance, Italy had also won the FIVB World Championship three times in a row, in 1990, 1994 and 1998. Serbia (third in the 2010 World Championship) and Bulgaria (third in the 2006 World Championship) are always among the favourites. Iran, who made history with a fourth place at this year’s FIVB World League, is also capable of springing a surprise or two.
Hosts Poland are also among the top favourites, and can count on the support of their loyal fans. They may have narrowly missed out on the finals of this year’s FIVB World League, but home wins against defending champions Brazil and Italy are proof of this team’s huge potential. The millions of volleyball fans in the host nation of Poland are obviously dreaming of a repeat of their triumph in Mexico City in 1974.
Polish Volleyball Federation President Miroslaw Przedpelski is hoping his team can at least pick up a medal, but will not be drawn into naming any favourites: “Every one of the 24 teams is a favourite. Every team that is going to play in Poland dreams about triumphing. Naturally, their individual potential seems different, but sport loves surprises. That’s why there are no absolute favourites. The most important thing in sport is that if you are going to lose, do so after putting up a real fight.” It is under this motto that rank outsiders like Cameroon and Venezuela head to this title showdown.
The 24 teams will be spread across four pools of six teams playing in a round-robin system, with the top four teams advancing to a second round of preliminary matches featuring two pools of eight teams. The top three teams in these two pools then qualify for the third group phase of the event. This is followed by the all-important knockout matches between the best four teams at this unique event. Matches will be played in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Katowice, Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz and Bydgoszcz, all at state-of-the-art arenas. All of the Polish team’s matches, the semifinals and final sold out long ago, and demand for tickets for the remaining matches is also huge.
Poland is the eleventh country to host the FIVB Men’s World Championship, after Czechoslovakia (twice), the Soviet Union (twice), France (twice), Brazil (twice), Argentina (twice), Italy (twice), Japan (twice), Bulgaria, Mexico and Greece. Poland is now looking to set a new standard for the FIVB World Championships – for fans in the halls and for TV viewers around the world, with matches broadcast on TV Polsat.
“This championship is set to be a ground-breaking event in the history of volleyball. In over 200 countries receiving our television broadcast, we want to show that volleyball is a dynamic, clear, friendly, elegant and attractive sport,” said Polish Volleyball Federation President Miroslaw Przedpelski: “It will be a top level competition in both organisational and sporting terms, with fascinating matches full of enthusiastic, friendly and colourful crowds, with beautiful cities and, when all is over, it will be the source of wonderful and unforgettable memories.”