“We are in the position that if you lose twice, you end up in third place and from this Pool you can have a much more comfortable draw for the next rounds.Right before this game we were facing a dilemma but finally we decided to play and go for a victory. Poland deserved to win tonight as they simply played better than us but it is sad that these teams had to play in such conditions which are not fair.” – Nikola Grbic, Serbian Captain after Serbia-Poland first round match
“I agree with Nikola, it was not an easy match tonight, especially to find the right motivation; that was not that evident. We went for the victory and now we’ll probably have the toughest road to the finals…” – Pawel Zagumny, Polish Captain after Serbia-Poland first round match
The reality is that drawing teams for a big tournament like World Championships is not fair. Firstly, world rankings are used to determine pools and they are not really accurate. Secondly, the host nation always has an advantage which has the wider effect of skewing the draw in one direction. Thirdly, there is always one result somewhere that puts a top team in a place it isn’t supposed to be, therefore ruining the plans of other top teams. And so it nearly always comes to pass that one or more teams are in a position in which they can potentially gain an advantage within the tournament by NOT performing at their best. Everyone knows this, including the FIVB who frantically fiddle with the rules to prevent it from happening, without ever addressing the inbuilt imbalance that causes most of it in the first place.
The Serbia – Poland match on day three was one of those matches. Grbic and Zagumny spoke openly and honestly about it after the fact. Poland, having already won twice, had less control over their position and had the slightly easier decision to make, but in the end once the situation has been identified the decision has already been made. It’s one of those things that once you know, you can’t unknow, and it can’t not affect your motivation. I suspect it is no easier for any Poles and Serbians trying to sleep tonight to know that they were right. Serbia, having ‘lost’ first place and having rested key players for long periods in the first round were able to take advantage of a Cuban team still basking in their victory over Brazil. Poland having ‘won’ first place, and having pushed their starters to win all three matches, played a Brazil team trying to rebound from the tough loss to Cuba and were obliterated from the first point.
In volleyball, as in life, everything is timing. In this case, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s when you win or lose.
In other matches, Czech Republic probably ended US hopes of a medal by thrashing them 3-0. Germany had a surprisingly easy win over Puerto Rico. France oddly stopped playing while they were leading 23-20 in the third set against Argentina. They lost 5 points in a row to lose the set and the first two of the fourth set (in the same rotation). Argentina ended up with 8 blocks for the set. I have rarely seen an entire match turn so fast. France were playing well and cruising, then got blocked twice, missed an easy play and at 23-23 the Argentinian (Conte, I think) crushed two serves. Two more blocks for a 2-0 lead in the 4th and the match was done.
And so my three most impressive teams from the first round all lost. Russia won again. Brazil discovered its form. Serbia are tough. There could be 3 medallists there…