Olympic Volleyball Power Rankings – Final

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And so it’s all over for another four years.  The final was not just an unbelievable match in itself, but somehow encapsulated the whole tournament in 129 minutes of playing time.  The strong teams at the start (Poland and USA in the tournament, Brazil in the final) weren’t necessarily strong at the end.  All teams had periods in which they were both great and terrible (Italy for example in the tournament, both teams in the final).  The tournament swung on a series of improbable moments (Poland losing to Australia, Muserskiy becoming the world’s best opposite).  All the way through I have made a series of sometimes bold, but mostly just (embarrassingly) bad predictions.  I can however hang my hat on two things.  I can prove that I predicted a good and interesting tournament and that Russia would win.
1 (1) Russia. They finally did it.  After so many close calls and lost opportunities they have their gold medal, and in just about the most dramatic way possible.  The performance of Tetyukhin will be what I remember most.  Even at the age of 36 and in his fifth Olympics, he was still the best and toughest Russian player for most of the match.  For the first two sets I just felt bad for him that his teammates would let him finish his career in that way.  It turned out they wouldn’t and didn’t.  Alekno made one of the bravest coaching calls I can remember seeing.  It wasn’t as crazy as it might have seemed in the sense that both Mikhaylov and Muserskiy had played in those positions before, but I can’t imagine they had practiced it and to even think of it in that moment is impressive to me.  As for Muserskiy, I had seen him before and commented on his physical and technical level, but his mental stregth and strength of personality were probably just as impressive.  It will be interesting what his future holds.  The 1978 World Championships saw the emergence of Aleksander Savin as the world’s best player and ushered in the golden era of Soviet volleyball.  In ten years time, we may say the same about Muserskiy and Russian volleyball.
2 (2) Brazil. For nearly the whole tournament, Brazil seemed to have times their preparation perfectly.  They got better over the two weeks, cruised through the quarters, crushed Italy in the semis (25-12!!! in the 2nd) and for 2.97 sets were the best team in the final.  Bruno played well throughout and never gave his dad the temptation to throw Ricardo on. Murilo was just about perfect and Wallace gave a performance I’m not convinced Vissotto could have given.  But sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  There was some speculation that Dante was injured and Giba was sadly just a shadow of himself.  Despite having so many great players, one almost had the feeling that they lacked depth in the end.  There is talk that Brazil is coming to the end of an era, but that talk seems a bit overblown.  A big core of the starting lineup in the final (Bruno, Wallace, Saatkamp, Sidao) will be coming into their prime in four years time leaving them in a much better position, for example, that Italy after 2000.  What will change will be the personality of the team.  Giba has retired and it has been his personality more than anyone’s, with the possibility exception of Bernardinho’s, that has set the tone for international volleyball over the last ten years.  They have failed at the final hurdle twice now, but they won’t be going anywhere very far away.
3 (4) Italy. Somehow Italy overcame a huge form dip in the group phase to finish with the bronze medal.  In hindsight, that is the most that this group could have hoped to achieve.  They did it by playing in the most un-Italian way imaginable.  Well not the most un-Italian way, but rarely has an Italian team at any level played so aggressively that their style of play could almost have been termed reckless.  They consistently attacked at every opportunity and seemed not to be concerned about errors.  When the risks came off (quarter finals v USA, and for the most part v Bulgaria), they played at a pretty good level.  When the risks didn’t come off (semi final v Brazil) they weren’t nearly as good.  The best example of this was Savani who led the tournament in aces, serving speed and getting blocked under his feet.  The most consistent player was Zaytsev who served just as well, passed better, and had some variation in attack, but faded in those last two matches.  To make a step up the podium in four years they will need their young players (Travica, Zaytsev) to continue to develop and find some more depth at opposite.  But right now they are happy.
4 (3) Bulgaria. The occasion finally caught up with Bulgaria.  For the whole tournament they had played smart, disciplined, high level volleyball.  In the bronze medal match, they lost their discipline and precision, especially setting, just a little.  Even more importantly, they didn’t get the same game from their opposites (Sokolov and Nikolov) as they had.  Unfortunately being even a little off their game was enough to make the difference.  Once they have a chance to relax and to look back they should be satisfied with their performance.  Despite the upheavels of the summer, they have found the nucleus of a pretty good team including potentially one of the best opposites in the world.  Five of yesterday’s starters will be 31 or younger in 2016.  The only question is who will coach them…
5 (5) USA
6 (6) Poland
7 (7) Germany
8 (8) Argentina
9 (9) Australia
10 (10) Serbia

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