Category Archives: Olympic Volleyball

A Team Of N’Gapeths

We have all watched the world of volleyball changing as young players break down some of the barriers of conventional wisdom.  The most prominent is of course Earvin N’Gapeth whose highlights (for example here) now take up a pretty large part of the internet. Apart from being a great player, he has become known for attacking from all kinds of strange situations and not just on the third contact.  Imagine a whole team of players like him.

Well, you don’t have to.  Until 1976 the block counted as the first contact. So once the ball touched the block, a team had to use the next (for us in 2017, first) contact to set up a spiker. The best to do this was the Polish team who won a World Championships and Olympic Gold Medal in the 1970s.  Below is a clip of what it looks like when there are six N’Gapeths on the court at once, when Poland played Japan at the 1976 Olympics.

If you want to watch the whole match from which this clip is culled, here it is.


2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 6

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.

Sometimes quarter final day is gripping because the cost of losing is so high.  If you lose a semi final you still have a shot at everything.  Yesterday was not one of those times.  All the matches were clear, with the favourites winning.  Still, it should lead to some compelling semi final matches. But before we think about those, we are legally required to reveal our Power Rankings.  There they are…


1 (1) ITALY – Watching Osmany Juantorena being the most important player on the court in an Olympic quarter final for the team that is (mabye, probably slight) favourites for the gold medal does leave one wondering how a team in which he was the veteran, bench leader might have gone in this tournament.  But that is a story for another day.  Challenged in the first set, they were slightly tougher at the end and got even better as the match went on.  I can’t wait for their semi final.

2 (2) BRAZIL – After everything that happened in pool play, things have dropped out pretty well for Brazil.  Argentina was for stylistic, historic and geographic reasons the perfect opponent.  I didn’t catch the match.  Wallace is in great form and they have the crowd.  Bernardinho qualified for his sixth consecutive Olympic semi final as a coach.  He will know what to do to win his seventh Olympic medal.

3 (3) USA – If USA end up winning the gold medal, the tournament will be able to be encapsulated by a timeout taken by John Speraw in the second set of their quarter final match against Poland.  Trailing at the time, he exhorted / implored / encouraged his team to continue to serve with the same intent regardless of the situation.  His team responded and turned a 13-18 deficit into a comfortable win.  Beating the USA requires negating the serve advantage they have through solid reception and great high ball management.  Two of Italy’s strengths.

4 (4) RUSSIA – Like the USA, Russia are getting better as the tournament goes on.  Against Canada their attacking was especially good, over 60% overall, with the middles a combined 11/13.  If they continue in that vein they could well beat Brazil in Tetyukhin’s sixth consecutive Olympic semi final.  Just let that sustained excellence sink in for moment.

5 (5) POLAND – The post match analysis in Poland was the Polish serving was weaker than the Americans.  My sense is that they are mostly referring to their jump serving.  But if the USA have one area that causes them problems it is in float serve reception, and the Polish could not even keep their float serves in play.   In the past this has been a strength for Poland and maybe even won them a World Championships. With no serve pressure and no support for Kurek on the outsides, they were no match in this quarter final.  On the balance of performances, if not final placing, they should be reasonably satisfied.

6 (6) ARGENTINA – Argentina’s greatest victories have all been against Brazil at the Olympics.  For this reason alone they would have been confident they could win their quarter final matchup.  It turned out maybe they could have.  They were certainly close to a fifth set at least.  And without the injury to Conte, which restricted him to just 17 attacks, maybe they would have*. Like Poland, I think they will be reasonably satisfied with a quarter final spot and a win over Russia.  De Cecco certainly intimated as much in his post match interview.

7 (7) CANADA – They will go home knowing that they beat at least one of the eventual medallists, but they will still be going home.   Despite all their spirit and fighting quality they were never going to be a real chance against Russia unless Schmitt had a huge match.  He didn’t.  I still think they will be happy their efforts though.

8 (8) IRAN – Over the last three years or so, Iran have had some excellent results not least this week by making the quarter finals of the Olympics.  They receive well and have in Marouf and Mousavi two world class performers.  However, in big events they have always fallen short.  They fought hard against Italy especially in the first set but they lack the fire power to really make the next step.  If Marouf, as reported, retires from the National Team it will be interesting to see what happens with this team.

9 (9) FRANCE

10 (10) EGYPT

11 (11) MEXICO

12 (12) CUBA

My predictions…

Italy over USA, Brazil over Russia.  But don’t quote me.

Day 1 rankings here.  Day 2 rankings here.  Day 3 rankings here.  Day 4 rankings here.  Day 5 rankings here.

*A previous version of this post was written without the knowledge that Conte was injured during the match.  My apologies.

Olympic great Vyacheslav Platonov reveals his coaching secrets here.

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2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 5

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.

While my tips have been disastrous for the last couple of days of competition, I made one prediction that was spot on: That we would have a lot to talk about today.  So let’s.


1 (1) ITALY – Having won every match until the last day and securing the top spot in the group, Italy had every right to approach the last match in the way that best served their own goals.

2 (6) BRAZIL – I have unilaterally decided that the Power Rankings should reflect the draw for the remainder of the tournament.  As I have also unilaterally decided that Brazil is most likely to make the final from the bottom half of the draw they rise four places.  When their backs were really against the wall they played their best match of the tournament, with Wallace being particularly outstanding.  Brazil have made the final in the last 7!! major tournaments*.  I think they will keep their streak alive.

3 (2) USA – I am not confident that the USA will beat Poland in the quarter final, but they are playing ever so slightly better at this point.  I don’t think they will be able to physically dominate Poland with the serve and block in the way there were able to dominate France and Brazil.

4 (5) RUSSIA – Iran were not at their best yesterday, but Russia played the best match I have seen from them for some time.  Mikhaylov and Grankin in particular seem to have found the rhythm that made Mikhaylov the best scorer and spiker for most international tournaments between about 2009 and 2012.  In that form, they have a great chance to get a rematch of the last Olympic final.  Which is what most people want to see.

5 (3) POLAND – I suspect that USA’s victories have been over better teams and Poland’s and for that reason alone I am leaving them in fifth spot.  I think they are probably the third best performed team over the last week or so but they will have to beat the second best team in the quarters.  Even then I think the game is almost exactly 50-50.

6 (4) ARGENTINA – They have had a great pool phase, although I think the loss to Poland is the most indicative of their ‘real’ place.  The quarter final against Brazil will be a classic match up of traditional rivals.  In volleyball history, all of Argentina’s significant victories over Brazil have come at the Olympics.  They will believe they can repeat them but their style of play is too similar to Brazil’s, and Brazil is better at it.  The coaching match up between Bernardinho and Velasco might be almost as much fun as the match.

7 (9) CANADA – A win against Italy put them in the quarter finals.  They (or at least, I) say everything in life is timing.  It matters when you play certain teams as much as it matters how or who you play.  Canada created a chance by beating USA in the first match, and took it against Italy.  Chapeau.  They will have nothing to lose against Russia, and when they play with freedom they can be a match for anyone.

8 (8) IRAN – It seemed something was up with Marouf in the match against Russia.  Perhaps he was sick.  Perhaps there was some other reason.  Without Marouf, they don’t have a chance to go further, but making the quarter finals is a respectable result.

9 (7) FRANCE – They call it the Group of Death for a reason.  Someone has to die.  Yesterday it was France.  They paid the price for starting slowly against Italy and for never really finding their best form.  Especially yesterday, I often had the feeling that they were not playing to their strengths or with the joie de vivre that produces their most stunning and effective volleyball.  Perhaps the loss in the first match stole that joy and without it, they fall back to the pack a little bit.  Enough to be going home earlier than many (or at least, I) expected.

10-12 (10-12) – Egypt (10/10) Mexico (11/11) Cuba (12/12)  Nothing more to say.  I have to be honest here and say that I would have been happier if there had been at least one more of the top teams in the world taking one of these places.  We would have had more entertaining matches, particularly in Pool B.  But that is life.

My predictions…

Italy, USA, Russia, Brazil.  But I would not be shocked to see Poland and/or Argentina playing a semi final.  Hopefully that is enough caveats.  My tipping confidence has been rocked the last couple of days.

Day 1 rankings here.  Day 2 rankings here.  Day 3 rankings here.  Day 4 rankings here.

*I am referring here to World Championships and Olympics.  For comparison, from 1974 to 1982 USSR played five finals in a row.  The USA played three in a row in the 1980’s.  And as dominant as we remember Italy in the 1990’s they also only managed three.  Brazil have won four of those seven finals, but lost the last two.  I have heard some criticism that they always lose finals.  For comparison, the opponents in those seven finals were Russia, Italy, Poland, USA, Cuba, Russia, Poland.  That is, no other country has managed more than one final in a row.  I find that criticism to be dumb.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 4

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.

Day 4 was a cracker of a day.  Still more surprises and overall teams behaving as though they aren’t paying the tiniest bit of attention to our Power Rankings!  Actually that is not so much of a surprise.  But anyway, let’s see how the teams are doing after the fourth day of matches.  Bear in mind that I don’t watch every match.


1 (1) ITALY – They have rediscovered their identity, discovered a setter who will lead them for the next 15 years and beaten all three of the main gold medal favourites in the their pool fairly comfortably in the end.  As of today, the gold medal goes through Italy.

2 (8) USA – By beating France for their second big win in a row, USA make the biggest jump in the history of the Power Rankings.  When their serving is good, as it has been in their previous two matches, they are very, very tough to control.   The third set yesterday does show a glimpse of what can happen if their serving goes off the boil.  But for now, it isn’t.

3 (2) POLAND – I watched Kurek play about 25 times last season.  He almost single handedly kept his team in contention for the title, while being by far the best opposite in the league.  Even by those standards last night’s performance was outstanding.  He played just about as well as an opposite can play.  Sometimes even 36 points doesn’t tell the story adequately although without Kubiak it wasn’t enough against a Russia playing for their tournament.  They will have a slightly tougher quarter final now, but I doubt they will be distraught.  Especially seeing as they are still in a medal position in our rankings.

4 (5) ARGENTINA – They did nothing but take care of business yesterday but still climb one position on the basis of the performances (even more than the results) of other teams.

5 (6) RUSSIA – Watching Tetyukhin playing his sixth Olympics is one of life’s little pleasures.  He is no longer (nor was he ever really) the best player in the world but he remains a very, very good player.  He made a diving defensive action early in the match that put most of his ‘young enough to be my son’ teammates to shame.  And with a throwback performance from Mikhaylov, they aren’t actually in a terrible spot.

6 (4) BRAZIL – In the second match in which they were tested, Brazil failed again.  Despite the support of the crowd and a good start against an over aroused Giannelli, they couldn’t handle the increasing pressure of Italy’s block and defence.  Now they have to win their last match just to qualify for the quarter finals.  If they missed out, it would be the biggest shock in Olympic volleyball history.

7 (4) FRANCE – Against the USA they showed both the best and worst sides of the their play, but surprisingly the element that cost them victory was reception.  Without consistent control of the first contact they will always struggle a little.   Even more than other teams their reception is the platform (pun intended) of their game.  Their best, as they showed in patches of the first and fourth and in the third is not so far below the surface but they will need all of it to beat Brazil in a lose or go home match.  Who would have thought…

8 (7) IRAN – I tipped Egypt to win a set in our office pool.  At 26-26 in the first I thought I was the smartest guy in the room.  It turns out I’m not.  Let that be a lesson to all those reading these Power Rankings seriously.

9 (9) CANADA – A win against Italy will put them in the quarter finals for sure.  Two sets might be enough.  Watch this space…

10-12 (10-12) – Egypt (10/10) Mexico (11/11) Cuba (12/12)  I have no reason for those other than yesterday’s rankings.

For conspiracy theorists…

Italy is guaranteed to finish first in the group.  If they were to lose, either one of the pre tournament favourites will miss the quarter finals.  Leaving one less top team to beat for everyone.

My predictions…

We will have a lot to talk about this time tomorrow.

Day 1 rankings here.  Day 2 rankings here.  Day 3 rankings here.


2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 3

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.

Yesterday’s games seem to have provided a lot of excitement although looking back at the scores the matches seem to have been all straight forward.  Perhaps it was the performances and to and fro within each pool, especially Pool A.  These Olympics seem much more exciting than I remember the recent past.  But anyway, let’s see how the teams are doing after the third day of matches.  Bear in mind that I don’t watch every match.


1 (3) ITALY – At this point I have no idea who is really the top team, so I will go with the actual win/loss records.  Italy have won all their matches and won well against the team who beat the favourites.  That must make them the best performed team right now.  We are now a fairly long way from my pre tournament tips 😀

2 (2) POLAND – Also unbeaten, but in the weaker pool, they played a very good match against an in form Argentina whose confidence was riding high.  They were challenged strongly in the third but came through.  Kurek had his best match so far and Kubiak was Kubiak.

3 (1) BRAZIL – This was the first match in which they were really tested and it seems they were not able to respond despite their home crowd.  They still have to play France and Italy and on current form it is not inconceivable they could lose both of those matches, which would mean…

4 (5) FRANCE – Against Canada, France played at their very best.  I have seldom seemed N’Gapeth so focussed. Indeed he cracked his trademark grin only once, after scoring with his patented round arm spike.  He was also involved in a patented ‘moment’ with Marshall.  They still have to play USA and Brazil, so nothing is certain, but they will have slept a fair bit better last night than the previous few.

5 (4) ARGENTINA – When Conte plays like the best player in the world, Argentina can beat anyone.  When he is just very good, they can have some problems.  They didn’t play badly against Poland, but against the very top team playing well they lack a little overall firepower.  They are still favourites to be top two in the pool from where they would play one of Brazil, USA, France, Italy in the quarter finals.  Still a tough road to the semis, so they drop to 5th.

6 (7) RUSSIA – The biggest victory in the Olympic history is worth one place in our rankings, although it makes so statement about their likelihood of doing much in the tournament, which remains slim.

7 (8) IRAN – There were a few moments in the first set in which I thought they were taking it too easy against Cuba and might make some trouble for themselves.  But apart from some moments at the end of the second, my fears were unfounded.  They go up one spot although it seems unlikely they will make a huge impact on the tournament.

8 (9) USA – Their performance against Brazil was obviously outstanding but I can’t put them up higher than eighth because they are by no means assured of making the quarters.  Yesterday’s match was by first hand accounts an exceptionally high quality match and the US team will be very pleased with how they responded to the ‘adversity’* of their situation.  Saturday’s match against France will be yuuuge.

9 (6) CANADA – Canada didn’t really do anything to drop so far, losing to France is no disgrace.  But you are only as good as your last match, and USA’s last match was better.  They will be looking for a big win against Mexico on Saturday to put scoreboard pressure on the US.  And then maybe a point in the last match against Italy who might already be top of the pool.

10-12 (10-12) – Egypt (10/10) have their second Olympic record of the tournament with the biggest loss joining their first win in the books.  Still they a win, so stay in front of Cuba’s (12/12) and Mexico (11/11).

Can’t wait for Saturday.  We might see some big moves then.  Will Italy defend their top spot?  Will France overtake them?  Will we see a five set match in Pool A?  Will I force myself to get up and 3.30am to watch Brazil-Italy?  My predictions… no, no, yes, yes.our

Day 1 rankings here.  Day 2 rankings here.

*Losing two volleyball matches is not really adversity.  No matter how much sports psychologists want to say it is.

2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 2

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.  So without further ado, let’s see how the teams are doing after the second day of matches.  Bear in mind that I don’t watch every match.


current rank 1 (last rank 1) BRAZIL – Nothing to see here. Still favourites.

2 (2) POLAND – Against Iran they were tested; physically, technically, emotionally and even at the press conference.  They escaped by the skin of their teeth.  If that.   But winners are grinners.  Just a reminder, Poland became World Champions by playing a lot of five set matches and winning them all.  They hang on to second in our rankings.

3 (3) ITALY – There was only a tiny chance that they would play as well as they did against France, which proved to be the case.  They did however still play well against a US team fighting for their lives.  At this point they are a clear medal favourite.

4 (7) ARGENTINA – What we learnt today was that maybe Iran is not so bad, and maybe Argentina is great.  That is the great thing about sport, all the maybes.  Winning without Conte top scoring would have been the icing on the cake of beating Russia.  Winning so clearly would give them the feeling they could top the group, which would give them a real shot at the semi finals.

5 (5) FRANCE – We didn’t learn anything new today so they can’t move in our rankings.  Perhaps it was noteworthy that the coach made zero changes despite the match being the opposite of close.  Giving the starters an opportunity to regain their cohesion?

6 (6) CANADA – I didn’t see the match, but winning a set seems to suggest that they played well.  But nothing to move them in our rankings.

7 (4) RUSSIA – They switch places with Argentina after today’s loss.  Apart from a second set improvement inspired by second setter Kobzar, they are still struggling.  (Insert your favourite doping related joke here).  It was interesting that after coming off Grankin and Mikhaylov stayed off for the whole match.  The do not seem to have a fixed best lineup and haven’t since winning European Championships in 2013.  It is hard to see them make the big improvement they will need to to be playing for a medal.

8 (8) IRAN – They were definitely not nervous in their second every Olympic match and arguably they won the trash talk battle with Marouf’s performance in the press conference.  But while they showed a big improvement from their first match they still didn’t win and needed a mental lapse from Poland to even go to a fifth.  I am pretty excited for the match against Russia.

9 (9) USA – USA came out much better than against Canada but were still not quite at the level of Italy.  Every match from now on becomes more and more important in their quest for a quarter final spot.  It is not looking good.

10-12 (10-12) – Egypt (10/12) won their first ever Olympic match against Cuba’s (12/11) best high school team. Mexico (11/10) drop a spot after being crushed by France.  No humiliation there, but no love from our rankings.

Day 1 rankings here.

See you tomorrow.

2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Day 1

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.  So without further ado, let’s see how the teams are doing after the first day of matches.  Bear in mind that I don’t watch every match.


current rank 1 (last rank 1) BRAZIL – One set lost to Mexico but no harm no foul. Still favourites.

2 (3) POLAND – They were not tested but you can only play the match you are playing and they were focused and efficient.

3 (9) ITALY – It was partly tongue in cheek that I picked them to miss the quarter finals, but also partly because of their deeply disappointing World League Finals performances.  The great Italian teams of the past suffocated their opponents with exceptional block and defence.  In the last years they modified their game style to ‘try to serve more aces’.  In fairness this a) fit their personnel and b) worked.  The win against France was a throwback to those great teams of the past and the best I have seen an Italian play for at least ten years.  It makes it interesting.

4 (4) RUSSIA – Nothing to see here.

5 (2) FRANCE – It is not common to play matches at 9.20 in the morning.  That’s all I’ve got.  They looked completely out of sorts.  It is weird to watch such great players playing at that level.  I am sure they will bounce back.  Pretty sure, at least.

6 (8) CANADA – I expected Canada to play better than their most recent results which is why I picked them to snag one great win and make the quarters.  I didn’t figure that win would be against the USA, or in such a dominating manner.  On the basis of the first day’s performances they are probably looking at France as a winnable game, which gives them a shot at the semis…

7 (6) ARGENTINA – That Argentina would win 3-0 versus Iran should not be a surprise.  I don’t know what it says about volleyball that somehow it is.  It is noteworthy though that their starting opposite didn’t make it through the game.  They can’t rely only on Conte to beat top teams.

8 (8) IRAN – Not the 8th best team, but should make the quarter finals from that pool.  Were probably nervous in their first Olympic match.

9 (5) USA – I raised the question in my preview whether USA would be able to regain their form from last year’s World Cup.  My answer was maybe.  The evidence of the first day is, however, a fairly resounding no.  Overall they seemed disjointed and out of sync.  The setter completely missed the middles on more than one occasion and a few spikes found their way directly to the spectators.  Three days ago they were a medal contender.  Now they are in danger of missing the quarters.

10-12 (10-12) – Mexico (10) and Cuba (11) were able win sets against medal contenders.  Egypt (12) were not, and lost their starting opposite to injury.

See you tomorrow.