I think we have a tournament on our hands. After three days of competition, the top three medal favourites (Russia, Poland, Brazial) have all lost a match and the only unbeaten teams are an outside favourite (USA) and an afterthought (Bulgaria). It could be that matchups after the quarter finals will be decisive (Brazil beats Russia, USA beats Brazil, Russia beats USA?). That makes the last two days of preliminary round competition even more, er…, interesting. Badminton anyone? But on to the rankings.
Olympic Power Rankings – Day 3
1 (last position – 5) – USA. Having seen USA play ten times in the last twelve months, I can’t imagine how they could win the gold medal. But then again you can’t win the 2012 gold medal in 2011, and they are playing very well right now. They are especially strong in serve and block. Stanley, Anderson and Priddy are crushing their jump serves and their block is very, very organised. They had a lot triple block opportunities from against fast balls against Brazil which shows a team that is well prepared, disciplined and aggressive. Saturday’s match against Russia will tell a big story.
2 (1) – Brazil. After the first set, they really had no chance against USA. Only a great service run by Dante made the second set close and the third and fourth were no contest. Service pressure from USA kept the ball off the net and they had no solutions against the strong block and defence of USA. Even Giba and Ricardo couldn’t provide the necessary inspiration. The tournament is won in the second week, but they didn’t sleep well last night.
3 (2) – Russia. They did what they had to do against Tunisia. They drop a spot because of the US.
4 (3) – Poland. Despite Argentina’s lack of current form, yesterday’s performance was still impressive as they bounced back from the Bulgarian loss with a very focussed performance. It shows a maturity in the team and their belief in each other. They also drop a spot because of the USA, but this will probably change another two or three times before we get to the end.
5 (4) – Italy. Their performances up to now leave them clearly behind the top four teams. Beating Great Britain doesn’t change that. The round five match against Bulgaria will tell us a lot about their real chances.
6 (6) – Bulgaria. Compared to their match against Poland, they were quite sloppy against Australia, spotting a big lead in the second set and a smaller one in the third. Sokolov couldn’t maintain his form, but Nikolov is a fairly decent backup. It is strange to have an unbeaten team behind others who have lost matches but given their recent form, I suspect the Polish match was just a blip. We will know on Monday after they play Italy.
7 (9) – Germany. If anyone still had doubt after Sokolov’s match against Poland how influential the performance of an opposite can be, Gyorgy Grozer should have shattered that yesterday. Germany were about 20 minutes from elimination, standing at 0-2 against Serbia. Then Grozer’s amazing performance kicked in. 39 points, 50% in attack, 7! blocks and (only) 3 aces. He was ably supported by middle blocker Günthör who had more points than both outsides combined. Noone will really want to play against such an unpredictable team in the quarter finals, which they should now reach.
8 (8) – Argentina. Twelve months ago, Argentina’s second six nearly beat Poland in the World League finals and they played toe to toe with Brazil in the semifinals. They seemed to be on the brink of a big breakthrough. Yesterday they never had a chance against Poland and watching the match it was difficult to work out how they could play better. De Cecco tricks weren’t effective. Conte changes of tempo weren’t effective. And then you notice how shallow their team actually is. Eighth is their spot.
9 (7) – Serbia. So close, yet so far. At 2-0 and with match points in the fifth, Serbia had one foot in the quarter finals. Solid is good, but sometimes it can’t beat inspiration.