A few more have emerged from the training gyms over the weekend to ‘play’ some matches in preparation for the upcoming World Championships. I had the opportunity to watch two of them (Germany and Russia) yesterday. Russia won both matches comfortably, although they lost a set in the second match. Germany were not at their best, with several players suffering from slight injuries and illnesses. Match reports are here and here.
– Muserskiy is a really, really good player. He top scored for Russia with 15 points in three sets played. 7/7 in attack, 4 blocks and 4 aces. He is the perfect example of why really big guys are still not prevalent in the game (the last players of his height emerged in 1997). Volleyball is a technical game for athletes. He is an athlete with skills, and he has the even rarer skill of being able to use his height to maximum effect. A couple of his block points were really impressive for the combination of size and technique. Couple that with a great armswing, classical and fast, and you have a volleyball player, who happens to be 2.15m.
– Mikhaylov is a really, really good player who obviously wants to be the best.
– The Russians are still learning how to play. Judging from the way coach Bagnoli was constantly cajoling, informing, correcting etc, they are still some off playing the way they, or perhaps more accurately, he wants to play. He even called a timeout at 23-13 in the fourth to make a point he felt couldn’t wait until they got to the changerooms. If they even learn, they could be good.
– Grozer could be one of the stars of the tournament. If Germany get out of their pool.
In other matches, Brazil entertained Poland and beat them three times. In the first match, the two sets of starters played, with all sets close but ending 3-0. In the second match, both second sixes played with the scores not as close and also 3-0. In the third match, most starters returned and a close five set match was the result. Both teams have injury problems, with Plinski close to being ruled of the whole tournament for Poland, and libero Mario Jnr missing the series.
Italy won two matches at home (3-2, 3-1) to Serbia with both teams suffering the effects of some illness. Grbic and Miljkovic played together for only one set, the first of match two, which they one. Illness forced Italy to use Lasko (an opposite) at middle for a period. Taking all that into account, there is probably nothing much that can be inferred from the matches. The most interesting event of the weekend was the appearance and performance of young Ivan Zaytsev for Italian. His father, Vyacheslav, is considered one of the best setters of all time for his native Soviet Union. Ivan was born in Italy while his father played there and began as a setter. He turned into a passer hitter two seasons ago and although he hasn’t played higher than A2 yet, evidently has enough talent to be called into the national team. His performance probably won’t be enough to give him a spot on the final roster, but might. That a player can come from A2 to the Italian national team might also say something about the current state of the Italian league. It might, I don’t know.
Last weekend Puerto Rico qualified for 2001 World League, with a second 3-1 win over China. Volleyball.it described a crisis in Asian volleyball due to only one team being in next year’s event. I don’t think it can really be described that way as the last decent performance by an Asian team at a world event was Australia in 2000. The only difference now is that with the promotion / relegation system in World League they can no longer hold onto their places by paying money. At the moment Asia is only marginally better than Africa among FIVB zones.
One of Bernardinho’s favourites also emerged from their home court, but only to drive 50kms to play an open scrimmage. The USA Red team beat the USA Blue team in 5 sets. There is probably even less to be inferred from this news than any of the others, other than that perhaps they weren’t satisfied with their World League performance. But I don’t even need to infer that, Reid Priddy said it in so many words on The Net Live. His comment after World League was that they still need to work on their new systems under coach Alan Knipe. He felt the team didn’t yet have enough trust in the systems and in each other to stay within them. So the only solution was to go back to the gym. Actually in volleyball that is always the solution.
There were a couple of actual competitive matches on the weekend, one of which involved a World Championships team. In a really big surprise, Spain lost at home to Belgium in a European Championships qualifier. That is not the kind of result coach Julio Velasco would have been expecting from a team that only three years ago were European Champions. Estonia beating Netherlands is probably an even bigger surprise, although with much less effect to the World Championships preparation. In the last match, Turkey beat Greece. There’s no information about casualties. The return matches will be held next weekend.