Some more thoughts about the recently completed World Championships. Part One is here.
The Presentation – Among the traditional activities of the Awards Presentation (for example random people who nobody has ever heard of presenting medals) there was one quite odd occurrence. While everyone was watching the Polish team celebrate on the court and the tournament staff prepare for the presentation, out of nowhere the Polish captain appeared in the stands and received the rather beautiful, almost certainly not stolen, trophy from the FIVB President. I wasn’t expecting it at all and only saw it at the last second on the video screen. He then gave the trophy to someone, and ran back onto the court to be with his teammates. The trophy then made its own way to the court where it waited on a table like normal and was presented to the team at the end of the ceremony. I had completely forgotten about the weird first presentation until two days later when it suddenly occurred to me they must have been trying to emulate the football presentation ceremony. I laughed out loud. I am quietly confident that not one single spectator remembers the event today. It was completely out of place.
The Best Team – I don’t think this will be a tournament remembered for an outstanding team. The star of the tournament will always be the tournament itself. Poland proved itself to be at least the toughest team, losing only once (to the USA), winning four five set matches in a row in the second and third rounds and beating Brazil twice and Russia once. Writing that sentence seems to show pretty conclusively that Poland was the best team. That having been said they were never completely convincing and I don’t think they were really favourites to win at point until the 30 second point of this video when Murilo forgets that his opposite is actually in the frontrow.
The Best Team – From most points of view other than the final result, I think France was the best team. As I tweeted at one stage during the tournament “Modern volleyball is a game of transitions. And nobody transitions like the French.” The incredibly level of ball control from all players starting with libero Grebinnikov, and overall awareness of the team allowed them to move between phases, (defence to attack, attack to block etc) at about the maximum speed possible. Through this skill they were able to control nearly all longer rallies and had some periods of play (for example against USA) during which they were completely unbeatable. I read at one stage during the tournament that USA played ‘the most modern’ volleyball. I don’t agree with that. That title, and mine of Best Team, go to France.
The Favourites – As I wrote in Part One, I thought that there were as many as eight teams who would have thought they had a chance to win. Aside from the actual top four, USA, Russia, Bulgaria, Italy and Serbia would have had varying degrees of confidence. Bulgaria, despite a new coach, were pretty quickly put in their place. Sokolov seems a shadow of the player some (for example me) thought might be the best opposite in the world in 2012 / 13. The load he has carried for club and country seems to have worn him down physically and mentally. Serbia serious hopes also didn’t last much past the first week. Many observers were skeptical of Poland’s choice in playing Serbia in the opening match, thinking the risk for the team’s confidence was too great. You can see here, that those doubts were misplaced. And that Serbia might as well have gone home after this match. It would be a disaster for Serbia is Atanasijevic goes down the same path of overwork as Sokolov.
After winning World League, the USA would have been very confident of progressing at least to the semifinals. Sadly they were a victim of the tournament format and perhaps their own relative inexperience. Being in the toughest group, they had entered the second round already behind the 8-ball (due to results carried through). But through some great play, including inflicting Poland’s only loss, they ‘only’ needed to win their last match against Argentina to get to the top six. They didn’t manage. Their disappointment will be tempered by the knowledge they will only get better from here. Russia never managed to build any rhythm or momentum. Even when they were winning they never seemed at ease, everything was forced. Even Muserskiy seemed to lack his normal light touch and struggled (for him). After being the toast of everyone just twelve months ago, they now seem lacking in depth at both position 4 and opposite. Luckily they have Sivozhelez and Mikhaylov to come back. So maybe they shouldn’t panic right now. On the other hand, Italy should panic. Preferably right now. They were just awful, and perhaps tellingly, completely un-Italian in the way they played. Let’s leave it at that.
More to follow… here.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.