Belo Horizonte, Brazil, August 18, 2002 – Russia simply proved too powerful too often on Sunday morning here in this Brazilian city when they charged to a 3-1 victory in the finals of the FIVB $15 Million World League, shutting out the host country and last year’s title holder in a Festival of Volleyball at the Mineirinho Stadium.
It was the Russian team’s first ever World League title, the richest men’s event in the annual FIVB calendar, and follows on from the Russian women’s team winning the World Grand Prix final in Hong Kong several weeks ago.
Earlier Yugoslavia won the bronze medal 3-1 (28-26, 29-27, 23-25, 25-21) depriving eight times title winners Italy of a piece of this year’s World League glory.
Although Brazil were on the court with their Dream Team and were supported by some 20,500 screaming fans, it was still not enough to beat the might of the Russians who had crept back into the semifinals after a rocky performance in the round robin of the final round.
The Russians also cleaned up on the individual awards, winning everything except the Best Scorer Award that went to Ivan Miljkovic of Yugoslavia with a total of 61 points. Other awards went to Pavel Abramov (Best Attacker), Alexi Koulechov (Best Blocker) and Vadim Khamouttskikh (Best Server) – all from the Russian team.
Dr. Rubén Acosta, FIVB President, Brazilian dignitaries and senior members of the international Volleyball Family were in the stadium for the finals and Dr. Acosta presented the winning team with their trophy.
The Brazilians, on the court with their super heroes like Giba (Glberto Godoy Fihlo), started nervously against the powerful Russians who edged ahead in the opening phase.
But the Russians were in devastating form with Roman Iakovlev and Alexei Koulechov setting a wall of defense that was often impossible for even the Brazilian maestros to penetrate. A hug block by Andrei Egortchev at the 14-minute mark widened the gap for Russia to 17-13, prompting the nervous Rezende to pep talk his players.
The Brazilian block was ineffective against shots like Iakovlev’s smash that took to Russians to a five point lead and three points from the first set victory. Brazil fended off one set point and drew back to 21 before the Russians closed out 25-21 in 22 minutes.
Russian setter Vadim Khamouttskikh providing excellent service to his teammates in the second set while the Brazilians slipped into a costly set of errors.
Brazil took a brief lead at 12-11 and did manage to fight off one set point before making a mistake that gave the Russians their second set 25-23.
The Boys from Brazil ran on rejuvenated in the vital fourth set and set up a slim early lead, but again muscle bulk and deadly accuracy by the Russians foiled the host team. Rezende reshuffled his men and the Brazilians took the lead at 20-17. Two service errors sent Rezende’s blood pressure into the stratosphere before Brazilians found their way back into the match taking the third set 25-22. Brazil ran up an early lead in the fourth, but their renaissance was too little too late and Russia went on to close out the title.
In their match, Yugoslavia’s warriors put away the disappointment of their defeat by Brazil in the semis to contest one of the most closely fought matches of the tournament with each side chasing down every point.
Yugoslavia started strongly but Italy whittled away at their lead and drew level at 11-all. Seizing the initiative the always vigilant Valerio Vermiglio, small but deft, set elegantly to assist his team to a 2-point lead. Twenty-five minutes into the set with the sides ties at 23-all. Geric served the set point for Yugoslavia but Italy’s shot over the net found the sure hands of Miljkovic who gave his team a 28-26 first set. Italy edged ahead in the second set at 14-12 but with every point an individual battle, both sides had to pull all their power, tricks and finesse out of the bag. Fei and Pasquale Gravina at the net for Italy countered for 24-24. A great kill by Andrija Geric gave Yugoslavia set point at 27-26, but Fei was again
ready to save the point, but at the next set point, Miljkovic put away the winner for 2-0 for Yugoslavia.
Both teams traded the lead in the third set, but at the six minute mark Yugoslavia was two points ahead. A smash at the net by Andrea Giani put them back in the match at 11-all. Italy edged ahead and again Miljkovic struck to equalize at 13-13. Fei’s attack again put Italy ahead and a service error by Grbic gave the Italians a cushion of 3 points. Italy had set point on a Yugoslav attack error and suddenly they were back in the match.
Yugoslavia put away the final set 25-21 in just over 20 minutes, defeating the team that has dominated this Tournament in its 13-year history and who have won the World League on eight previous occasions.
The 2003 World League final will be hosted by Madrid, Spain.