The World Championships preparation period has just finished an interesting period. Not interesting in the sense that a lot of things have been happening, but interesting in the sense that almost nothing has been happening. Virtually all teams have been locked up at home, I guess, going through an intensive training phase, with all some individual wrinkles. Germany for example are in camp pushing through three hour combined weights/court sessions in the morning and 2.5 hour court sessions in the evening. In contrast, the French team has just gone on a weeks holiday, although some players who didn’t play much in World League (Antiga, Samica) are still in camp doing a conditioning program.
The exceptions to the ‘non activity’ rule have been Australia, Czech Republic and the teams involved in the World League qualification series. Australia’s first round opponents Puerto Rico have continued their successful summer (they won the Central American Cup a month ago) by beating Portugal twice to advance to a playoff against China. Their star opposite Hector Soto led the team in scoring and is in ominous shape a month away from the World Champs opener. The other qualification series pitted Japan against Tunisia for the right to play against Korea for a place in World League. Japan won both matches easily and will thus ensure that there is at least one Asian team in next year’s World League. With a qualification process now in place, and Asian team consistently finishing last in their pools, it will be interesting to see just how long there continues to be an Asian presence in volleyball’s most premier annual event.
While most teams been at home, Australia has been in Europe, wandering through Czech Republic and Poland, and will soon head to Argentina. Czech Republic, as well as playing Australia have been in Poland, playing and defeating the Polish B team. The first salvos in among the big teams occurred last night in Gdansk, Poland. In front of all the local dignitaries (including Lech Walesa), Poland defeated Brazil 3-2 (20-18 in the fifth). Despite playing with two players who had already played twice this week with the B team (against Australia and Czech Republic), Poland raced to a 2-0 lead (25-21, 25-18), got pumped in the next two (14-25, 17-25) and then fell over the line to win it. Perhaps Poland is now favourite for the big title. Just joking. The teams will go at it again (along with Czech Republic and Bulgaria) in a tournament starting on Friday.
Now the countdown begins in earnest.