And then there were four. On Saturday it will be Cuba – Serbia and Italy – Brazil in the semi finals of this fairly contentious World Championships. Brazil secured their place by proving yet again that the result of friendly matches don’t count for anything. Just three weeks after losing twice and just winning a third match against Germany they showed what it means to be the best team in the world by crushing them in the match that actually counted for something. Italy made sure of the place that was almost certain by sweeping aside a French team missing their opposite. While Italy were fulfilling their destiny, Bulgaria put both feet on the line, had a close look at what it could be like to be in the semi final, and decided against it. Cuba played like the young team they are (or might be). They were aggressive, dynamic and fearless, even if they often played with little evidence of a team system. Bulgaria with highly experienced world stars like Kaziyski and Nikolov, on the other hand, were the better team for long stretches of the match. However, at almost every important moment, they froze like the proverbial deer in the headlight. The most obvious example being at the end of the second set. Leading 1-0 and having pulled back 16-22 deficit to even the score at 23-23, they were presented with an overpass that was blazed out. Cuba with the above mentioned fearlesseness, won the set on an ace on the next serve. Several match points were also squandered in the fourth set after which the result never really in doubt.
So three of the teams that attempted to manipulate the system to progress made the semi finals. This would make Cuba the karmic favourite. As life doesn’t actually work like that, they will probably lose the Serbia who have already beaten them once, decisively. In the other semi final, even with 15,000 spectators to spur them on I can’t see how Italy can beat Brazil. Brazil is just better. That would lead to a Serbia-Brazil final, where two of my betting rules come into play. Never bet against Grbic/Miljkovic in a game that really counts and never bet against Brazil ever. Given that my third betting rule is never bet, I think I will just watch on TV.
A couple of amusing press conference moments…
After getting thrashed by USA, French player Guillaume Samica announced “We did not lose on purpose“.
After getting through to the semi finals, Italian coach Andrea Anastasi was asked what was the difference between this team and the team that came 10th at last years European Championships. He apparently answered the question with a straight face.
On another note, the headline of the above linked Anastasi article (“To beat Brazil 2+2 must equal 5″) refers to a quote attributed to the coach of the Italian team from 1978, the last time Italy hosted a World Championships. Before surprisingly making the final, he said ‘If 2+2 equals 4 we will lose. But sometimes 2+2 equals 5”