FIVB Men’s World Championship has come to its conclusion with Poland beating Brazil, the champions of the past three events. So, with the male competition finished we now move on to the female championship, which is currently underway in Italy.
So, who is in with a shout of tasting success at the 17th FIVB Women’s Volleyball Championship?
As defending champions, Russia will be fully expecting to do well in Italy. Victory will see the Russian side make it three championships on the spin.
The female side didn’t have the best of showings at the London 2012 Olympics, finishing in a lowly 5th place. However, their dominant performance at the 2013 European Volleyball Championship shows that the Olympics was just a blip. The tournament, which was hosted in Germany and Switzerland, saw the Russian side return to their mercurial best. They dropped just three games in their six matches, as they claimed their 18th European title. Their showing in the European Championship has rightly seen them instilled by Betfair as one of the favourites for the tournament.
It is a team packed with talent. In captain Maria Borodakova they have one of the best middle-blockers in the female game. Standing at an imposing 1.90m, Borodakova is a phenomenon and is a great of the game. Her importance really cannot be stressed enough.
Youth has been the selection policy for the Russian side, which can be a risky strategy but that shouldn’t be a problem according to Nataliya Obmochaeva. She believes that the hunger of the young girls in the side should be a “great advantage”.
So far Obmochaeva’s assessment is proving to be correct as Russia sit atop of their group, with six points from two games. The performance against Thailand, the 12th seed, is particularly pleasing. They were made to toil out there, having to squeeze points from every game before running out 3-0 winners.
The big test in Pool C is the United States, who are ranked higher than Russia and have also made a winning start. Top spot is imperative for both sides; nobody wants to be playing Brazil or Japan in the next round.
Naturally, you cannot talk about Russia and not mention the United States. What was once a hostile rivalry between the two is now played out via the medium of sports rather than proxy wars. Still, when these two behemoths meet in sporting encounters they usually end in explosives.
The States have never won a World Championship; a silver medal in 2002 and 1967 are the greatest results to date, but they will fancy their chances this year after finishing second to Brazil in the 2012 Olympics.
As a team they have a lot of their talent playing in Europe, which is a huge advantage. The European league is a hotbed of Volleyball talent so by having your players based there they should be playing a much higher standard than they could achieve by staying Stateside.
Key players include Dinamo Kazan’s Jordan Larson-Burbach, Kelly Murphy, Destinee Hooker and Megan Hodge-Easy.
As previously mentioned, the States have started well, beating Mexico 3-1 and Kazakhstan 3-0 in their opening two fixtures.
In recent years it seems that the USA have been perennial runners-up, but they have a great chance of changing that this year. The first two games have shown that they are playing as a cohesive unit and they should be considered favourites for that must-win Russia clash. Can they beat Brazil a little further down the line? Well, that’s the million-dollar question, but, on their day, America are as good as anyone.
The South American country have been one of Volleyball’s heavyweights in recent years, winning both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, as well as tasting success in the previous two World Grand Prixs and being named World Grand Champions in 2013. So, it is extremely surprising that the most ruthless side in volleyball right now are yet to win a World Championship. It seems a certainty that they will be rectifying that this year.
Talent-wise, their side is the best bar none. In captain Fabiana Claudino you have one of the game’s best spikers of the ball, as well as being one of the most feared middle blocks on the court. Complementing Claudino is Dani Lins, who was named the best setter at the 2014 World Grand Prix, and Adenizia da Silva, who is widely regarded as one of the best servers in the female game. Now, take a second to consider that. Brazil have three of the best players in the world, and arguably the three best players in their respective positions. They really are the team to beat.
With Russia opting for a more youthful side you can’t look any further than Brazil. Russia were the side that beat them in the previous two World Championships, but the players who proved too strong for Brazil back then are no longer involved in the national setup.
Brazil win games, it is what they do, and their start to the 2014 Championships has been no different. After an opening 3-0 win against Bulgaria, the Brazilian side completely dismantled a hapless Cameroon team 3-0, restricting them to just 47 points. Brazil’s second line was fantastic that game with some inventive dumps, aggressive spikes and unreturnable serves, while Natalia Pereira kept herself in the top-scorer hunt with an 18-point haul.
Brazil have laid down a marker in these first two games. They’re here to win and from what we have witnessed thus far, it seems all but a certainty – if only Volleyball was that black and white.
Home advantage is a real boost for the Italian prospects. People who try and downplay home advantage border on lunacy. There is something special and captivating about playing in front of your home fans, and as a result your game can only really get better, while the hostile atmosphere can really demoralize the opposition. Just look at Poland, who as aforementioned managed to topple the mighty Brazil recently, while Italy have also used it to good effect. Two games in, and they sit top of Pool A after crushing both Tunisia and Croatia 3-0.
They have won this competition before, back in 2002, and have never had a better chance of winning it again than now. Players like Monica De Gennaro, Paola Croce and Giulia Rondon are all going to have to rise to the occasion. So far they have lived up to their billing as star players, but with all respect they were playing Volleyball minnows. The challenge in their group will be Germany and the Dominican Republic, before facing the top, top, teams in the latter phases.
It is no secret that Italy do not have the best team on the court, but they do have the fans. Home support is the best player you could wish for.
With two games gone, the big teams are all 100%. Granted they have played minnows but nonetheless they are unbeaten. The States have looked good and they will probably be the main threat to spoiling the Brazilian party.