After the first ball was hit in Warsaw yesterday, the teams in Pool D, the first four of which will eventually cross paths with Poland’s Pool A, also launched their World Championship campaigns. The second day of actions was very intense and offered some interesting outcomes. One thing is certain – Iran, among the group favourites on paper, is now clearly with a good chance to make some history.

It all started pretty well on Sunday for the 2014 World League’s semifinalist from Asia. Mauro Berruto‘s lads were probably confident with their tournament odds and especially with the result from their last encounter with the Persians – a stunning 3-0 win for the bronze in Florence. Italy started the game and the tournament slow, not totally motivated and prepared and were soon punished by the agressive Iranians. The Serbian head coach Slobodan Kovac had done a great job making his players tactically ready for the Italian attackers. This was best underlined by the massive performance in block – 15 points, with Seyed  Mousavi stuffing 8 alone.

The most visible difference between the two sides, apart from motivation, was the display of the two playmakers. Dragan Travica was predictable (check again the block attempts of Iran), at times inaccurate and overall struggled to provide a solid game. In fact, we saw Michele Baranowicz, their second setter, enter the court in the third set, which is painfully rare for Berruto. Normally Travica has a star status in Italy and enjoys court time no matter what. Ivan Zaytsev was loaded with most of attacks as he was hardly ever supported by Jiri Kovar, who failed with his reception tasks, and Simone Parodi. Salvatore Rossini is one of the best liberos in the world, so avoiding him in reception was a key assignment for all Iranian servers. The results were obvious and Iran was in control of the game despite the lost second set.

Mir Saeid Marouf, on the other side, was once again brilliant. Smart, fast, multifarious in setting, the best setter of the 2014 World League set his team to victory. The two young outside hitters, Farhad Ghaemi and Mojtaba Mirzajanpour, did a good job in reception and created many problems for the Italian defence with their attacks. Iran showed the same face we had been seeing the whole summer and now is the time to prove they are ready to make a step forward. On Tuesday they face a known opponent – the team that beat them in straight sets in the semifinal in Florence, the USA.

My pick for the game’s MVP – Mir Saeid Marouf (Iran)

Italy – Iran 1-3 (16-25, 25-23, 21-25, 22-25)

Italy: Travica 5, Kovar 12, Buti 10, Zaytsev 20, Parodi 5, Birarelli 7, Rossini – libero, Baranowicz, Lanza 1
Iran: Marouf 2, Ghaemi 14, Mousavi 16, Ghafour 16, Mirzajanpour 14, Gholami 6, Zarif – libero, Mahmoudi 3, Ebadipour 1, Mahdavi, Tashakori

mwch2014 BEL-USA

The second match in the brand new sports hall “Krakow Arena” in Krakow was the longest one we’ve seen in Poland so far. Allegedly the top-form squad in the world right now, USA needed five sets to overcome the resilient Belgians. Head coach John Speraw claimed such a tough start had been expected, but he hadn’t probably believed the Americans would take that long to score their first win. There was almost no sign of the spark his players played with in Florence when they won the World League in a mesmerizing final against Brazil. It’s quite normal for Team USA to start a bit cautious, for as much as it will be a long and exhausting tournament, but there should be some exclamation marks set in their camp. The experiment to change Matt Anderson‘s position worked fine in the World League, but he struggled yesterday and even finished the game on his usual place in reception. The team’s engine, Micah Christenson, was not as confident as he was during the summer, but I am sure it was just a fluke this time. Luckily, with proper substitutions Speraw could change the course of the match and eventually brought first points for his side against a difficult opponent. The main problem, however, in my opinion, the head coach will have to solve is how to keep his team winning now that the whole world knows the way they play. Because no doubt the big teams will be better prepared for what comes from the American court.

Dominic Baeyens can be pleased with his boys. The Belgians were quite close to causing the first major upset of the tournamen. I don’t consider the Iranian victory to be a surprise as they are already a team at the foot of the volleyball zenith. The “red dragons” didn’t panic after they dropped the opening set and played with determination and no pressure or whatsoever. Kudos to the young Sam Deroo who was the best Belgian player near the net and from the service line. Baeyens also has a great weapon on the bench. Gert van Walle has some experience entering the court as a substitute and his appearance against the USA was a game changer. His left hand is not that common to read when you are jumping at the net. He finished with 13 points and provided the experienced setter and captain Frank Depestele with more options in attack compared to the tall and not so athletic Bram van den Dries.

My pick for the game’s MVP – Taylor Sander (USA)

Belgium – USA 2-3 (21-25, 25-17, 16-25, 25-21, 11-15)

Belgium: Depestele 1, Deroo 12, Verhees 9, van den Dries 8, Kilnkenberg 6, van de Voorde 8, Derkoningen – libero, Coolman 3, Claes, Verhanneman 3, van Walle 13, Valkiers
USA: Christenson 1, Sander 24, Lee 10, Anderson 14, Muagututia 5, Holt 11, E. Shoji – libero, K. Shoji, Ciarelli 4, Clark

mwch2014 PUR-FRA

The last game in Krakow was the shortest one in the program for Day 1. Considered by many as the punching bag of Pool D, Puerto Rico offered good volleyball and showed they would create problems to everyone who underestimates them. Unlucky to be among five very good teams, David Aleman‘s men did not make it easy for France. I am quite sure Puerto Rico would have had better chances to fight for a second round spot had they been drawn in another pool. Led by the forever young captain Hector Soto, the best scorer of the 2006 World Championship in Japan who now performs as an outside attacker, the Central Americans were three time close to stealing a set from Laurent Tillie‘s side. France started with Earvin Ngapeth in the line-up instead of Kevin Tillie who had played in most of the summer games. Benjamin Toniutti is also someone who is trusted a lot to help “les bluez” earn a second round ticket. He is one of the good setters in this World Championship and he might have had a more prominent role at the net had it not been for his 183 cm in height. The French team is in good shape, their results in the World League and the friendlies prior to landing in Poland confirm this statement. They took what they came for against Puerto Rico and will have to work hard in the following days when the real tests arrive. Watch out for France versus Italy on Tuesday evening.

My pick for the game’s MVP – Kevin Le Roux (France)

Puerto Rico – France 0-3 (23-25, 22-25, 24-26)

Puerto Rico: Goas 3, Cruz, Muniz 7, Torres 13, Soto 12, Mannix 8, Del Valle – libero, Jose Rivera 2, Ortiz, Morales
France: Toniutti 1, Ngapeth 9, Le Roux 11, Rouzier 12, Marechal 7, Le Goff 7, Grebennikov – libero, Tillie 1, Lafitte, Jaumel

Pictures: FIVB