By …kind of, I don’t mean it is kind of about World League, but rather that is a kind of a preview because as we all know, World League is already a third of the way through.
World League is an interesting tournament for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that it is a preparation tournament masquerading as a competition. Of course, the prizes on offer (team and individual) mean that it is a convincing masquerade, but a masquerade it is nonetheless. This season the most important competition is World Championships and everyone knows it except the press officers for the respective federations and promoters. And really they know it too. It’s just a piece of theatre that everyone voluntary buys into.
Given that it is a preparation tournament, the quality is variable, depending mostly on timing because as we know timing is everything. Early in the World League season (ie close to the end of the league season) the best players of the best teams are often rested. Some players are given the entire World League season free to rehabilitate (Tetyukhin, Koulechov, Stanley, Miljkovic, Zagumny, Antiga etc etc), rest and prepare for the really important games in September. For some teams, the ones who want to reach the highest level but aren’t there yet (Germany, Holland, Italy) , they play with their full teams, at full speed, from the first moment. This explains most of the ‘inexplicable’ results that have popped up so far (eg Germany v Poland, Holland v Brazil, Italy being good). That being said it is still a high level and very interesting to watch.
Two rounds in some random thoughts and observations from the matches I’ve seen.
- Of the 16 teams playing, five have Italian coaches and three have Argentinian coaches (two of whom have spent a long time in Italy). Italian coaches and the ‘Italian School’ is the most highly regarded in world volleyball by a considerably long way.
- In the Italian team are three players whose fathers were national team players… for other countries. Travica (Yugoslavia), Zaytsev (USSR) and Lasko (Poland). A fourth from the 19 man team (Baranowicz) also has a father who played for Poland. And a fifth, Martini, has a father who played for … Italy!
- Even allowing for the missing Stanley and Priddy, the USA miss Lloy Ball more than any other team miss any other single player. With the possible exception of Pawel Zagumny from Poland. Neither USA nor Poland played well at all in the first weekend. The Americans were outclassed by Russia as Poland were by Germany!
- Germany played the first weekend like it was the most important weekend of the year. In a sense, for them, it was. Returning to World League after a six break, playing at home, with a full team to choose from, they were clearly highly motivated. They dominated both games and deservedly won. German opposite Grozer starred, giving Polish fans a taste of what they could see weekly next season after he moves to title contenders Resovia. In the game within the game, the (first) battle of the Argentinian coaches was won by Raul Lozano, who was also the previous coach of Poland. Still following?
- The second battle of the Argentinian coaches was won by Poland’s (?) Daniel Castellani over Argentina’s Javier Weber. Despite playing at home, having a full team to choose from and with Nicolas Uriarte (another famous son) mostly on the bench, Argentina surprisingly lost both matches.
- Holland could be on the way back. They have a young team with three or four talented young passer hitters and a young setter, who is no Blange, but at least has Blange as a coach. And winning in Brazil is never easy even if Brazil is clearly testing out some new players, as Bulgaria learnt in the first week.
- Preparation be damned… Giba played the second match.
- As a coach watcher, I’m enjoying watching Italian Daniele Bagnoli, coach the Russian team. As the hugely successful coach of Sisley Treviso he was the stereotypical grizzled old coach, who rarely showed any emotion, or even sometimes signs of life, during games. As coach of Russia, he has become the second coming of Bernardinho; Cajoling, encouraging, shouting and drawing plays. It is cool to watch a coach, especially such an experienced one changing his own style based on the needs of his team.
- France has been very disappointing. The little bit I saw, against Italy, was not impressive.
- The Asian teams (China and Korea) are waaaay off the pace. 1 set in eight matches combined, shows the relative strength of the Asian zone starkly indeed.
- And who will win? Brazil, of course. I don’t need to follow the games to know that.