Tag Archives: 2010 FIVB Volleyball World Championships

Generation of Workers

Italy is a proud volleyball nation.  And Italians love both nicknames and hyperbole.  For example, Lorenzo Bernardi is universally known as ‘Mister Secolo’, literally ‘Mister Century’, in reference to his FIVB ‘Player of the Century’ Award.   The league itself is often referred to as ‘the most beautiful league in the world’, which is nicely appropriate given that it may no longer actually be the best or richest.   Probably the most common one I have come across is the ‘Generazione di Fenomeni’.  The ‘Generazione di Fenomeni is the generation of players that produced three world championships and an Olympic silver and bronze in the 1990’s.  It includes players like Paolo Tofoli, Andrea Zorzi, Bernardi, Andrea Gardini, Andrea Giani, Luca Cantagalli and others who played in multiple championships in that period and laid the foundation for Italian volleyball as it currently is.

Brazil last week equalled Italy’s three consecutive World Championships run.  Another Generazione di Fenomeni?  Brazilian opposite Leandro Vissotto was posed this question after the final.  He replied that he didn’t believe in Fenonemi.  It’s all about work.   “The victories of the past do not guarantee the future for this we work every day to win the next event.”

Where Italy had a Generation of Phenomena, Brazil has a Generation of Workers.

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World Championships – Some More Thoughts

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.

 

World Championships Final – Told You So

Over the course of the last few weeks I’ve made many predictions about various aspects of the World Championships.  Without going through all of them one by one, I’m pretty sure my success rate was disappointingly low.  But I did get the main one right.  At the end of the day, when all was said and done, the last team left standing was Brazil.  After the events of the last few days, I had quite high hopes for the final.  But that was another failed prediction.  Brazil began with an aggressive blocking tactic to shut down Cuba’s really strong position 4 hitters (Leon and Leal) and leaving their relatively weak opposite (Hernandez) to spike mostly against a single block.  To say the tactic was successful was one of the milder understatements of the week.  Finding themselves unable to get through in their normal way, Cuba’s setter forced more balls than normal to Hernandez who made multiple errors and Brazil were quickly ahead 2-0.  Cuban coach Samuels in a last throw of the dice put Leon to opposite in the third set which was effective for a while, but was too little too late.  Brazil certainly didn’t play at their best.  Dante made some quite inexplicable errors and Murilo was again a bit below his best but Vissotto was great again and Bruno held it all together well.  However, defence wins championships (apparently) and their block / defence was decisive.

In the playoff for the bronze medal, Serbia finished an excellent tournament by beating Italy.  If it turns out to be the last international tournament for Nikola Grbic then it would be a fitting end to a wonderful career that began with a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics and includes countless successes and awards.

I’m sure in the coming days I will have many more thoughts, but that’s about all for now.

All of the results and statistics and official press releases are here.

World Championships – … and the final is…

Cuba – Brazil

After two weeks, 70 odd games, a few scandals and the whole gamut of emotions, there are only two left standing.

Watching the Cuba – Bulgaria game in the third round, my reaction was the Bulgaria controlled the game and Cuba were able to take advantage of Bulgarian mistakes and missed chances to win in the end.  But after watching essentially exactly the same game, with the same result except that Serbia as the opponent, I have revised my view. While those teams led the match and certainly had chances, Cuba’s relentless aggression means that neither team ever controlled the match.  Cuba just never, ever let up.  They served strong, they hit hard (ALL the time) and they blocked aggressively.  That they have no discernable defensive concept and make the odd bad mistake never seems to affect them.  Nikola Grbic had a surprisingly poor game, especially setting to position 4, and Ivan Miljkovic played a great game, but didn’t come through at the big moments in the 3rd and 5th sets.  For Cuba, Leon and Leal were great.  The Serbians block couldn’t get anywhere near them, although I can’t help but feel that may have been to a large degree a tactical failing from Serbia.  For me, though, the most impressive player was Robertlandy Simon.  Even though every time I hear his name I think of a famous Australian middle distance runner.

The Brazil – Italy semi final didn’t meet expectations, most definitely not for Italian fans.  Brazil were clearly the better team and despite, or because of, the huge crowd in the PalaLottamatica both teams seemed to be trying to keep a lid on the emotions which probably played into Brazil’s hands.  For Brazil, Vissotto was unstoppable even though a slight injury to Bruno forced the reintroduction of Marlon for his first match in three weeks.  Dante was also in great form, to make up for a slightly off night from Murilo.  Italy just weren’t good enough.  Fei scored his points but made many errors and only the middles, Mastrangelo and Birarelli, were able to get through the Brazilian block and defence with any kind of regularity.   Libero Marra was probably their best player on the night.

In the little finals, Russia pumped USA for fifth thus keeping alive their streak of winning 100+ consecutive games that were important but not the most important.  Bulgaria, led by Nikolov were much too strong for Germany for 7th place.  Argentina finished a strong tournament for them by beating Czech Republic for 9th, and France put aside a disappointing tournament and the suspension of a player after a fight with the coach, to beat Spain for 11th place.

All this sets up a potentially classic final between the best two teams in the tournament, Cuba and Brazil.  Cuba won the match up in the first round 3-2 but Brazil have steadily improved since then.  Both teams are strong and aggressive and have no fear.  I want to say Brazil’s superior organisation and experience will pull them through, but I said that for Cuba’s last two matches.  On the other hand, Brazil was my pick 3 months ago.

Brazil in four.

World Championships – The Dust Settles

And then there were four.  On Saturday it will be Cuba – Serbia and Italy – Brazil in the semi finals of this fairly contentious World Championships.  Brazil secured their place by proving yet again that the result of friendly matches don’t count for anything.  Just three weeks after losing twice and just winning a third match against Germany they showed what it means to be the best team in the world by crushing them in the match that actually counted for something.  Italy made sure of the place that was almost certain by sweeping aside a French team missing their opposite.  While Italy were fulfilling their destiny, Bulgaria put both feet on the line, had a close look at what it could be like to be in the semi final, and decided against it.  Cuba played like the young team they are (or might be).  They were aggressive, dynamic and fearless, even if they often played with little evidence of a team system.  Bulgaria with highly experienced world stars like Kaziyski and Nikolov, on the other hand, were the better team for long stretches of the match.  However, at almost every important moment, they froze like the proverbial deer in the headlight.  The most obvious example being at the end of the second set.  Leading 1-0 and having pulled back 16-22 deficit to even the score at 23-23, they were presented with an overpass that was blazed out.  Cuba with the above mentioned fearlesseness, won the set on an ace on the next serve.  Several match points were also squandered in the fourth set after which the result never really in doubt.

So three of the teams that attempted to manipulate the system to progress made the semi finals.  This would make Cuba the karmic favourite.  As life doesn’t actually work like that, they will probably lose the Serbia who have already beaten them once, decisively.  In the other semi final, even with 15,000 spectators to spur them on I can’t see how Italy can beat Brazil.  Brazil is just better.  That would lead to a Serbia-Brazil final, where two of my betting rules come into play.  Never bet against Grbic/Miljkovic in a game that really counts and never bet against Brazil ever.  Given that my third betting rule is never bet, I think I will just watch on TV.

A couple of amusing press conference moments…

After getting thrashed by USA, French player Guillaume Samica announced “We did not lose on purpose“.

After getting through to the semi finals, Italian coach Andrea Anastasi was asked what was the difference between this team and the team that came 10th at last years European Championships.  He apparently answered the question with a straight face.

On another note, the headline of the above linked Anastasi article (“To beat Brazil 2+2 must equal 5″) refers to a quote attributed to the coach of the Italian team from 1978, the last time Italy hosted a World Championships.  Before surprisingly making the final, he said ‘If 2+2 equals 4 we will lose.  But sometimes 2+2 equals 5”

World Championships – Karma Police

As I watched USA thump Italy in the first set of last night’s match, I thought two thoughts – maybe having to play hard in every match just to get through could have led to better form at the end of the tournament and that maybe the karma police were having their say on Italy.  At the end of the match, I discovered I had learnt two things.  The USA and Italy had to play hard in every match just to get through because they aren’t very good.  And there is no karma police.  The second statement would be backed up by US captain Reid Priddy who had some thinly veiled criticisms about the conduct of the Italian players during the match.  Even from my highly pixelated ‘TV’ footage it seemed apparent that Italian captain Vermiglio was in ‘fine’ sledging mode both against the US team and the referees.  Priddy was obviously affected during the fourth set and at one stage was called to referee (for retaliating?) as Vermiglio pointed to the scoreboard.  At the end in a match in which none of the spikers could get into any kind of rhythm the match ended the only way it could have; Stanley for the 30th time in the match having to check his approach, jump backwards to hit the ball and got blocked.  On this performance, Italy will struggle against Brazil’s second ‘setter’.

The winner of the day is Serbian coach Ivan Kolakovic who after beating Russia and getting the first semi final spot declared he was ‘the happiest man alive‘.  At least part of his happiness is derived from the fact that having started the fiasco by throwing the first round game against Poland, subsequent events have led his actions to be forgotten and to this headline from the German volleyball press ‘Serbia Punishes Russian Cheating‘.  The karma police definitely had the day off.

World Championships – Losing to Win – Bagnoli’s View

After a long away trip, I’m catching up on my reading (well, google translating) from over the weekend.  Despite Brazil copping most of the overt criticism, others have been at least as open in their view and actions.  Russian coach Daniele Bagnoli (an Italian) was very clear in an interview here.  He uses very strong words to describe the tournament formula including foolish, biased and insane.  He states that his goal is to move the team through the first two rounds, not necessarily to win games, ‘only in the next round do we have to win games’.  And even more clearly, ‘with my team, I do what I want’.  He also makes another interesting point that I haven’t noticed anywhere else, that the teams that finished second in the respective pools also had an extra free day between games which could be important in protecting players carrying slight injuries.

The owner/publisher/editor of http://www.volleyball.it, Luca Muzzioli, writes an editorial here that supports the coaches, if not in their actions, then at least in their criticisms of the formula.  It is entitled ‘Excuse me? I’m with them’.  His statement “… the world championship of any sport should not put anyone in a position of having to do calculations and make choices to live the doubt, maybe not very sporting, but fair for what are the expectations, the pressures with which they live, to get to the one goal that remains at the end, victory.”