Cuba – Brazil
After two weeks, 70 odd games, a few scandals and the whole gamut of emotions, there are only two left standing.
Watching the Cuba – Bulgaria game in the third round, my reaction was the Bulgaria controlled the game and Cuba were able to take advantage of Bulgarian mistakes and missed chances to win in the end. But after watching essentially exactly the same game, with the same result except that Serbia as the opponent, I have revised my view. While those teams led the match and certainly had chances, Cuba’s relentless aggression means that neither team ever controlled the match. Cuba just never, ever let up. They served strong, they hit hard (ALL the time) and they blocked aggressively. That they have no discernable defensive concept and make the odd bad mistake never seems to affect them. Nikola Grbic had a surprisingly poor game, especially setting to position 4, and Ivan Miljkovic played a great game, but didn’t come through at the big moments in the 3rd and 5th sets. For Cuba, Leon and Leal were great. The Serbians block couldn’t get anywhere near them, although I can’t help but feel that may have been to a large degree a tactical failing from Serbia. For me, though, the most impressive player was Robertlandy Simon. Even though every time I hear his name I think of a famous Australian middle distance runner.
The Brazil – Italy semi final didn’t meet expectations, most definitely not for Italian fans. Brazil were clearly the better team and despite, or because of, the huge crowd in the PalaLottamatica both teams seemed to be trying to keep a lid on the emotions which probably played into Brazil’s hands. For Brazil, Vissotto was unstoppable even though a slight injury to Bruno forced the reintroduction of Marlon for his first match in three weeks. Dante was also in great form, to make up for a slightly off night from Murilo. Italy just weren’t good enough. Fei scored his points but made many errors and only the middles, Mastrangelo and Birarelli, were able to get through the Brazilian block and defence with any kind of regularity. Libero Marra was probably their best player on the night.
In the little finals, Russia pumped USA for fifth thus keeping alive their streak of winning 100+ consecutive games that were important but not the most important. Bulgaria, led by Nikolov were much too strong for Germany for 7th place. Argentina finished a strong tournament for them by beating Czech Republic for 9th, and France put aside a disappointing tournament and the suspension of a player after a fight with the coach, to beat Spain for 11th place.
All this sets up a potentially classic final between the best two teams in the tournament, Cuba and Brazil. Cuba won the match up in the first round 3-2 but Brazil have steadily improved since then. Both teams are strong and aggressive and have no fear. I want to say Brazil’s superior organisation and experience will pull them through, but I said that for Cuba’s last two matches. On the other hand, Brazil was my pick 3 months ago.
Brazil in four.