A friend of mine wrote on his facebook page on Sunday night “Brazil celebrates and so ends a really poor World Championships”. Reid Priddy, on The Net Live, said that this tournament didn’t have the special feeling that others have had. While scanning my RSS feed every morning I was (for once) secretly pleased that volleyball wasn’t important enough to be reported on by the mainstream sports media, so embarrassing were some of the events.
It was certainly a weird tournament. While looking at the last three or four days, I would agree with my friend that the standard was not high. In my view having Italy in the semi finals detracted significantly from the event as they were by no one’s reckoning among the best four (or six or maybe even eight) teams at the tournament. The Cuba – Serbia semi final was close but not really entertaining and Brazil were just miles better in the final even though they didn’t play anywhere near their best. I feel like the highest quality, and definitely the most entertaining, matches were in the first round. That having been said, if we take off our ‘it was better before’ glasses, in the 2006 World Championships, Brazil was so much better Ricardo spent a whole set in the final trying trick sets, and in 1998, Italy crushed Yugoslavia in much the same manner. So we shouldn’t let the final matches completely determine our analysis of the whole tournament.
Even as an internet spectator, I feel like there is a lot of merit to Priddy’s comment. A lot has been talked about the throwing of matches and the rights and wrongs of it. Whichever side you fall on, or even if you straddle that fence, it definitely affected the feel of the tournament and I think also of the quality. In a normal event teams build momentum over the two or three weeks. For obvious reasons this was not possible this time around. I am sure that this played a part in Cuba’s result. They (along with Italy and USA) were the only ones of the big names who played every match at their maximum. Brazil, Serbia, Russia and Bulgaria all had ‘hiccups’ along the way and to me it is yet another credit to Bernardo and the culture he has built how they were able to cope with that situation, as well as injuries and illnesses (even if the circumstances of the ‘hiccup’ are less of a credit). The other three all lost matches they might have been expected to win in normal/different circumstances. In a study I did while at university, I was able to ask famous Russian coach Vyacheslav Platonov directly if he would ever deliberately throw a match. While not answering the question directly yes or no, he was clear that there was a great risk involved in something like that as losing always affects the mindset of the players.
Hopefully, the next one will have a different format and a different discussion at the end of it.