“Whatever the Serbians can do we can better!” seems to be the motto of the second round of the World Championships. If the first round ended with a discussion about losing on purpose to gain an advantage in a tournament, the second round ended with a full on debate. After Russia lost to Spain to try to avoid Brazil in the third round, Brazil and Bulgaria were placed in the completely unenviable position of BOTH teams being in a position to gain an perceived advantage in losing. So, in front of 6500 spectators who were expecting to see the best game of the tournament so far, they saw 11 guys they’d never seen before as both teams rested most of their starters. What made it seem even worse, was that Brazil have no second setter due to the illness of Marlon and so one of the passer hitters played as a setter and that was that. The looks on the faces of the coaches as they sat apart from the action were mostly of sadness.
It seems however that the debate has been going on in the background since the draw was made. The German site volleyball.de reports this morning that many people have believed from the beginning that the tournament has been rigged in favour of Italy firstly through the peculiar tournament structure and secondly through the drawing of the groups. Spanish coach and Italian volleyball icon, Julio Velasco, even said it publicly. The subtext is that the coaches involved in throwing matches are unapologetic for their actions on the basis that the FIVB ‘started it’, so to speak, by creating the structure. FIVB president Wei, is of course, publicly upset and denies any FIVB involvement. Given that the FIVB creates entire tournaments so that Japan can win world ranking points and so remain ‘relevant’ in world volleyball, for them to claim innocence has as much basis in reality as some of the results of this tournament.
So the tournament itself becomes a side event and it is tough to pick a winner from here. Italy are axiomatically favourites to make the semis, but USA could easily beat them even if they aren’t playing well. Of the other teams, Cuba has played one great match, Brazil has played one great match, Serbia has played one great match, Bulgaria has played one great match and Russia has been successful. None of them has any actual form leading into the most important moments of the tournament. One that basis you have to go with the past, and make Brazil favourites. But be prepared for more twists.