World Championships Day 2/3 – 21st Century Fan

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My ‘first’ World Championships was 1982.  By an amusing quirk of the FIVB calendar, Australia’s fourth place at the 1979 Asian Championships was considered a qualifying performance and so a group of 14 players and a couple of coaches headed off to Argentina for Australia’s first participation.  By another quirk of fate, my junior coach was the assistant coach on that trip (because he could afford the cost and could get time off work) and so only a couple of weeks after the tournament I was able to find out that the Soviet Union won against Brazil and that Australia finished 22nd.  Apart from a program and a t-shirt that was the sum total of information from the tournament for a couple of months before FIVB magazines started to reach the outskirts of the (volleyball) world.  There were however many stories.  The one that sticks most in my mind was how the mythical (until then) Soviet middle blocker Savin had jumped with the a-quick, been tricked by the opposition setter who set the b-quick, and nonchalantly reached over with one hand while in the air to stuff the ball anyway.  Even now that is a very rare event, but at that time the idea that something like that was possible was virtually inconceivable.

Flash forward 28 years and I’m sitting with my laptop watching the fifth sets of Bulgaria-France and Germany-Poland live and simultaneously. For 15 year old me, that idea would have be way more inconceivable even than a Savin one handed block.  At least I knew Savin existed, even if noone I knew had ever seen him in person.  But, to the games…

Some impressions…

– Normally I find club volleyball more exciting than international volleyball.  A big reason for that is the fans that aren’t normally there for international tournaments and the play itself seems to be less intense.  But this tournament seems to be an exception.  The matches are really intense and high quality and FAST!!!  And there are fans for both teams at most of the games, one of the advantages of playing in the middle of europe, in driving distance from probably half the participating countries.  So far the tournament is wildly entertaining.  For me.

– The two matches above were just great.  It was point for point, with lots of defensive actions (good defence, rather than poor attacking) and neither team being able to build a lead.  In the end, Poland was a little bit better than Germany and France was a little bit luckier than Bulgaria (see next point)

– Brazil v Cuba was another great match.  Brazil played perhaps a little below their best level (or at lot judging from Bernardinho’s expression, although maybe that isn’t an objective judgement) but both teams fought tooth and nail and again it was a great level.

– I predict the next World Championships will include video replay.  The basic video technology (without even considering things like Hawkeye) is way too good, too easy to use and too revealing not to be accepted.  The last spike from Kaziyski (Bulgaria – France) clearly (as was almost immediately revealed) hit all four fingers of the middle blocker’s left hand.  That’s not a good look for anyone.   The pancake that hit the middle of the defender’s hand in the Brazil – Cuba match was likewise embarrassing for all (and the referee was the best referee in the world)

– It’s about speed.

– USA without Priddy = 5 sets against Mexico.  USA with Priddy = a chance, but probably not a big one.

-The little bits of Russia I’ve seen have been far from convincing.  Admittedly they didn’t have the same level of competition to push them as some of the other groups, and it’s not like they actually struggled, but they still have some work to do.

– It’s ALL about speed.

– The French team is young and talented.  Marechal and N’Gapeth are both real talents (enough to keep Samica out of the 12 man playing group), Rouzier seems to be maturing and Pujols has his mojo back.  And they are unbelievable at defence (I want to know how they teach it).  They are  a team to watch especially as a couple of the big fancies are going to drop out early.

– If the Poland, Serbia, Germany, Canada first round group was the Group of Death, how do you describe the Poland, Bulgaria, Brazil second round group?  The lessons are 1. performance (in this case Poland’s and Serbia’s) is not always rewarded appropriately and 2. there are flaws in every playing system no matter what clever things people think up.

– 3/4 Asian teams are already on the way home.  2/3 African teams are through to the next round.  Could one of the Asian zone places be in danger for the next World Championships?

– I will go on the record as saying Italy won’t win a medal.

– The most impressive teams I’ve seen so far have been Poland, France and Cuba.  I don’t think any of them will win the whole thing.

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