FIVB - Women's Volleyball World Cup 2011


Valentina Fiorin

Italy found the right formula

Now that the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup 2011 has ended, I am more than pleased by my former team’s performance.

For some reason, I think that very few people believed that they could do it after placing fourth in the European Championship – but it happened. The team is quite changed and they were able to find a good balance and infused a lot of enthusiasm in their game.

The players that particularly caught my attention were Carolina Costagrande and Paola Croce. Costagrande was the key player, she stood-in excellently for Francesca Piccinini and was able to give so much more.

Costagrande was so good in every aspect of the game. She can do everything from passing, spiking from all positions, digging and blocking. She’s a complete player – positive and most of all, she can be a leader 100 per cent.

Paola Croce’s defence has been significant in Italy’s matches. It was a good that she was called in again by the national team after several years. I think she was ready and had good motivation. But all the girls have been great.

It is always good to see new faces in the national team. I was watching a match of the Italian team at the European Championship and I realized that a team formed by all the players from the bench would have been equally as good. I think the team had more depth on their bench this time.

Finally, Italy’s player combination at the World Cup was good as it is not very easy to find the good combination in a team especially when you have a lot of good players with similar skills but they have found the right formula.

Valentina Fiorin is a former Italian national team player. She competed for Italy at the FIVB World Cup in 2003, the FIVB World Championships in 2007, and the FIVB World Grand Prix (2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007). She was also part of the team that won the European Championship in 2007. She received several awards as Best Spiker and Best Receiver. She now plays for Japanese club Ageo Medics.


Maurizia Cacciatori


World Cup continues to excite

I have to say that I have found real excitement at this edition of the World Cup.

I’m writing this blog just after the match against Germany and Italy have just obtained their ticket to London. This was unexpected, since they didn’t play well at the European championship and they were heavily criticized before leaving for Japan. Furthermore, they had three serious losses to the team with Paola Cardullo out with a hand injury, Piccinini left at home because of problems connected to the thyroid, and Ortolani injured at the very last minute. Despite all this, they have literally crushed every opponent so far, playing the best volleyball I’ve seen in the event this year.

As a former setter, fellow setters are always the first to appear on my notebook. Eleonora Lo Bianco, the famous Leo, is absolutely my number one. She has had a tough time in recent years having with her battle with cancer. But she is back on court now and the world can see how much of a champion she really is.

The World Cup is a very difficult tournament, where often even rest days means travelling: Lo Bianco knows this fact very well since it was during travel at the 2007 edition that she was injured and forced to finish her campaign early.

In Italy there are calls for “Leo” Lo Bianco to be the Olympic flag-bearer in London and I can think of no one who would deserve this honour more. I would love to see her marching ahead of our athletes. Thousands of people are now signing petitions on social networks. You can join in as well by clicking “like” on Facebook. I truly believe that volleyball and Leo Lo Bianco should represent Italian Olympic sports in London.

There’s another setter on my favourite list: USA captain Lindsey Berg. Her attitude is outstanding, she’s a real leader. It’s amazing how the whole team keeps following her, not just because she is the one keeping the ball in play.

My last comment is for Brazil. I cannot completely judge from what I see on the video in the Sky studios. My view is limited by the distance. I can only see faces, time outs and looks among players.

I was expecting the usual show from Brazilian players. I was expecting lions, but instead I am seeing lambs. I don’t know what has happened to the team guided by Ze Roberto, but they’ve lost their typical aggressive feelings. When they were losing, in the past, they were losing in a different way, not yielding like they are now.

I’m sure we’ll see them in London, but a different attitude is necessary to be at the top again.

Maurizia Cacciatori is a former setter and captain for Italy and played in over 200 matches, picking up the best setter award at the 1998 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship. She helped the side to bronze at the 1999 Women’s European Championship in front of her home fans before picking up silver in the 2001 edition of the tournament in Bulgaria. She also won gold at the 2001 Mediterranean Games in Tunis, Tunisia. Maurizia is now retired and a very busy mother with recently born son Carlos Maria.


Tanja Hart


Germany serious contenders for Olympic qualification

Germany’s last match against USA was amazing. It was such a good performance and I could see that they have a good team spirit at the moment just by the way they played together. I think they have a big chance of making the Olympic Games but they must make sure they stay focused. The tournament is very tough with 11 matches across two weeks, and that is before you think about the travel involved.

Angelina [Grün’s] return has obviously helped the team. She is a good friend of mine, I know her very well and it was the right decision for her to come back to the indoor game after she finished playing beach volleyball. She has such a strong character and is a great team player who knows what the main goal is. She has played in an Olympics before, alongside me in 2000 and 2004, so knows what it takes to get there.

It is good that both Angelina and Giovanni [Guidetti, Germany coach] are often on the same page. He demands a lot from both himself and his team and will be desperate to reach the Olympics. I text messaged him yesterday to say congratulations after the win, telling him he has a new fan in my young daughter Emma. Giovanni of course text back saying that he hoped to see her on the team in 16 years’ time!

It is important to remember that although players like Angelina or Christiane Fürst and Margareta Kozuch are important, there are 12 very good players with them in Japan as well. This gives Giovanni the advantage to change the team around but maintain a high standard of play. A lot of Germany’s players are doing very well at the moment, for example, I haven’t seen Maren Brinker play better than she did against the United States. The team have to focus on the main goal.

I hope they finish in the top three. It is good they have two chances, with this and the continental Olympic qualification tournament, as it is always difficult to qualify for the Games.

The top three is hard to pick, but of course Brazil will be in there. I hope Germany join them and I think they have a good chance of making it. I haven’t seen Italy yet but I understand they are playing very well so I believe they will complete the podium. Qualification for Germany is the most important thing.

Tanja Hart is a former German women’s national team player who retired in 2008. A three-time Olympian, she competed at the Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games with a best finish of sixth. Hart also competed in three FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships and won bronze at the 2002 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in Hong Kong. She also helped her team seal bronze at the 2003 European Championship in Ankara, Turkey.

Jungo Morita

Combinations the key for Japan

Having seen the Japanese women play these first few matches in Hiroshima I have to say I’m quite disappointed with their performances. There seems to a big gap between Japan and the rest of the world right now. Japan’s serve reception is not good while setter Yoshie Takeshita is really struggling. I don’t know why but she is struggling with her combinations and since she is struggling, the Japanese spiking is struggling.

We saw a better performance against Algeria from some of the substitutes on Tuesday, but against the bigger, stronger teams Japan is not coping well.

Prior to the World Cup Japan was playing very quickly but Takeshita has really lost her touch, it’s disappointing to see at this moment. There is still time to improve but against the likes of USA, who sound like they are playing very well at the moment, and China, who are building moment they will and have struggled.

Back in my day, Japan was very successful due to our variety in combinations. We would suprise teams with different plays, and player combinations. Now all the teams do it while Japan seems to have lost it and Takeshita is really the key to our women’s team finding it again.

The same applies for our men’s team. Different combinations, rather than regularly relying on individual players is the key. At the moment the men’s team relies too much on Kunihiro Shimizu and they are only successful when he is successful. Of course, injuries have not helped our cause but this emphasises the fact that we need more depth and strength within the squads. However, despite all that, I still think they have a good chance at finishing third.

Brazil, both men and women, are a great team which has excellent depth and the ability to change their combinations.

To compete against them now, a good serve and reception is key. Japan can currently block the back court attacks but a good serving team is difficult for them as they tend to be much stronger now.

The speed of today’s game is very fast and every team is serving a lot stronger and on top of that, every team has data and statisticians. Coaches have a more difficult job with all the stats they have to deal with. I think I retired at a good time, these stats aren’t really my thing.

Jungo Morita is a former Japan national team player who helped his team clinch Olympic gold at the 1972 Games in Munich. He also won the silver medal at the 1968 Games in Mexico as well as bronze at the 1970 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Bulgaria. A key player for Japan in the middle blocking position, he was known for his lighting fast reflexes, and for innovating the “Pump Attack” and “snatch spike.”


Obayashi Motoko 

Japan can definetely qualify for the Olympic Games

Now that we have completed the first round of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup it is a good opportunity to see who the likely teams to reach the podium are and, consequently, qualify for the Olympic Games.

I definitely believe Japan can qualify. The team itself believes they can go to the Olympic Games and I believe it very strongly also. I am a sports commentator now but somehow, as a former player, my opinion is that I am sure they can achieve this goal although they need to improve a lot.

Before this World Cup, Japan had lost two key players in middle blocker Ai Yamamoto and Megumi Kurihara who were both injured. And so there has been some changes in the members and also their positions, therefore the team training took place in a very short period of time.

Regarding team work I think they had little time to get used to each other well. Japan's goal was to become the world's number one defensive team and they have been fighting for this goal until now. However, in their match against Italy, on the serve-receive and on receive, they lost everything. The The Italians gave the Japanese defence a hard time meaning they could not build up their usual rhythm. So what Japan needs to improve, I think, is the serve-receive, and serve.

Concerning other teams and the competition overall, I believe, more than ever, that the strength of key players could lead to a surprise. Many teams have lost some of their best players who are injured so there are only a few teams left who can really perform at their best. Teams such as the US and Brazil, who are permanently reaching their best level I think are really strong.

I have participated in four World Cup tournaments in the past, and twice I was in a situation where my team had to qualify for the Olympic Games. The first two times were ordinary World Cup tournaments. But in 1991 and 1995, the third position allowed the team to get a ticket for the Olympics. Therefore, our main focus was to get that third position. So amazingly, every team was focused on the World Cup more than on the Olympic Games, so they were all fighting and having the same goal in mind. Therefore, I remember having the experience of fighting in a period when every team was at their best level and condition. It was tough. Also, the tournaments were very long, and even though everyone was in the same situation, for some players like the Japanese who are traditionally quite small, it was more difficult to fight for a long period of time.

Obayashi Motoko,44, is a Japanese legend having played for the national women’s team from 1985 until 1996. She participated in four World Cups (1985, 1989, 1991, 1995), two World Championships (1990, 1994) and three Olympic Games (1988, 1992, 1996). A devastating left arm wing spiker, the former captain, who is now a volleyball commentator, was the first Japanese female player to play as a professional outside of Japan when she played in Italian Serie A club Ancona in 1995.


Virna Dias 


World Cup like first round for the Olympic Games

To me, the Women’s World Cup is likely to be a three-way race between USA, Italy and Brazil, with perhaps Serbia, who are very tall, causing an upset.

All four teams have star players with Logan Tom, Destinee Hooker and Tayyiba Haneef-Park for the United States, Fabiana, Paula Pequena and Sheilla for Brazil, Carolina del Pilar Costagrande for Italy and Ana Bjelica for Serbia all top assets.

I think Brazil has learned from their defeat at the World Grand Prix earlier this year and this was evident at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. They showed great progress, especially in serving and blocking and that was key to winning the gold medal. They will be without two great players in Jaqueline and Natália but I think they will seal one of the Olympic Games places.

The World Cup is almost like the first round of the Olympic Games and in that respect, is just as important. In addition, Brazil has never won a World Cup title and will be especially keen to win for the first time.

Having said that, I don´t think the top three teams at the World Cup will be the three medallists at the Games next year. The charge is much higher at the Olympics and there are always surprises. In addition, Cuba and Russia will certainly be in contention for medals in London. I followed Cuba in Guadalajara and they are a young and talented team and should provide a high level of volleyball in 2012.

It is an exhausting tournament, with many tough games in a short time. It’s one of the toughest tournaments throughout the season and the fitness of the players will make the difference.

Virna Dias is a former Brazilian national team player and three-time Olympian. She won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Games. Virna also won the 2004 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and clinched silver in 1999, where she also claimed the MVP, Best Receiver and Best Scorer awards. She was also a FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup silver medallist in 2003.




Preparation and training will tell difference at World Cup

The two favourites for me going into the World Cup are Brazil closely followed by USA. However, no team should underestimate how difficult this I think this competition will be.

The teams must go to the games focused to play well. So preparation and training is essential before the competition.

I'm sure some teams are growing and finding their best game and that there will be a few surprises. I think USA and Serbia are very well prepared and come to the tournament off the back of some very impressive results in all competitions. I think Logan Tom and Megan Hodge will do particularly well but some of the European players have looked good this year, notably Angelina Grün of Germany and Simona Gioli of Italy.

As for Brazil, Sheila, Fabiana and Thaísa will be the top performers.

I always enjoyed playing at the World Cup. The structure is good and it is generally well organized. The last time I played this tournament I was very happy because the goal was to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games where I won the gold medal with my teammates. It was the first gold medal for the Brazilian women’s team at the Olympic Games. I'm very proud of it.

Fofão (Helia Souza) is one of the most decorated women to have ever played volleyball for Brazil. A former captain of the side, she competed at five Olympic Games, winning bronze at the Atlanta 1996 edition and Athens 2000 edition before leading her team to gold at the 2008 Beijing Games. In a career that spans two decades, she also won four FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008 as well as two FIVB Women’s World Cup and three FIVB Women’s World Championship silver medals. Most recently she clinched the FIVB Volleyball Club World Championship 2011 title with Turkish club Fenerbahce.