While I’ve been taking something of a blog ‘sabbatical’, the 2011 edition of World League has reached its half way point. That seems like an odd time to write a preview, but I figure why not.
The biggest story line of 2010/11 in the international scene is change. Many countries panicked in response to results at the World Championships and so World League features a lot of new coaches. Italy, Poland and Finland indulged in some partner swapping (Anastasi from Italy to Poland, Berrutto from Finland to Italy, Castellani from Poland to Finland) while Russia (Alekno for Bagnoli) and Bulgaria (Stoychev for Prandi) just made everyday changes in response to results. Not unexpectedly there has also been some roster juggling, with players taking part of the summer off to refresh themselves for European Championships in September (eg Miljkovic, Vergmiglio, Zagumny) while new coaches have also taken the opportunity to test new players (eg Berrutto filling the roster with a very un-Italian number of young players). Other storylines include, Serbia trying to solve the problem of Grbic’s international retirement, USA looking to bounce back from a very disappointing World Championships, Brazil plodding along as the best team in the world, Asia trying to win a game, Puerto Rico and Portugal testing themselves against the best and Cuba trying to play with most of their best players in jail.
At the half way mark of the tournament, some initial judgements can be made. The ‘metaphorical’ winners thus far are Russia who have dropped only one set in six matches and have dominated, Argentina who in the midst of change have shown that stability is an undervalued commodity, Italy who are also unbeaten thus far and most surprisingly of all, Asia. Before the start of the season new Russian coach Alekno refused payment for his role citing patriotism and urged his players to do the same. There is no word on whether they have but so far their results are positive, with the caveat that their results are always positive at this stage of the tournament. Argentina have taken advantage of Serbia’s rebuilding and an (injury related) slightly below par performance from Finland to lead their group. With a completely new team, Italy have shown great fighting spirit to win all six matches, although France’s performances until now have been disastrous, perhaps due to a hangover from the scandals that marred their World Championships. Japan and Korea have exceeded all (realistic) expectations by winning four matches so far, three more than Asian teams managed all last season. Germany was the latest victim, losing at home to Japan in five sets.
In the other storylines, Puerto Rico have discovered that World League is tough, and losing in World League is really tough. Their performances in losing both home games to Poland on the weekend were fairly listless. Radostin Stoychev has discovered that international volleyball is not the same as club volleyball. He has already lost nearly as many matches as national team coach as he did all last season as coach of Trento. The two losses to Russia were not close. USA on the other hand, after being destroyed by Poland in the first match, have bounced back winning four of the next five, and played two very good matches in Brazil on the weekend, winning one of them. The second match in particular was a very high standard although Brazil essentially gifted them the 4th set. Priddy has been outstanding and Matt Anderson has made a breakthrough in international volleyball, covering for a Clay Stanley significantly below his dominating best. In the biggest surprise, they are being led by setter Brian Thornton. Exactly. Brazil were not as smooth as you’d expect, making some uncharacteristic errors (I saw a ball drop to the floor on a miscommunication) but the season is young.
Can’t wait to see the finals.