What does it take to be the ‘greatest match of all time’? I guess simply speaking the match needs to have high quality, great drama and a big stage. In a previous post I suggested a couple of candidates but those are not the only ones.
When the Olympic Champion USA met World Champion Soviet Union on day two of the 1985 World Cup in Osaka it wasn’t technically a final. The peculiar format of the World Cup (single round robin without playoffs) and shortsightedness of the organisers (seriously, how could they not play this match on the last day?) saw to that. But it was the decisive match of the tournament and hugely significant in many ways. The Soviet team was at the tail end of the greatest golden era the sport has seen, had just dominated the European Championships (again) and was almost certainly feeling robbed of an Olympic gold medal due to the LA boycott. The USA team, at the beginning of their own golden era, was almost certainly feeling that they deserved their gold medal and wanted to justify it by beating their main rivals. Add in a few tired old Cold War cliches and we know that the resulting match must have been a battle. The video that is now on You Tube (and below) shows that it was.
Some random thoughts…
- The level of volleyball seems to have made a huge jump from just three years before (although in fairness the quality of the videos is very different) perhaps due to the structure and specialisation that the USA had introduced to world volleyball.
- Tactically there are some obvious differences to today’s game. The lack of service pressure and therefore greater quality of the reception (coupled with the rarity of service errors) meant that the middle players hit (relatively to the other spikers) a lot more balls than would now be common.
- Tactically both teams were using a lot of overload situations with the reception often close to position 2 and a first and second tempo player in a small area. That forced the opposition to either expose himself to a two against one situation in that area in order to get a double block against position 4, or to leave position 4 with a single block. The Soviets had a lot of problem blocking in that small space.
- The Americans had an obvious defensive plan to try to stop Savin, to make up for the very great difficulty in stopping him at the net. They dug him a couple of times but the one Timmons got in the face probably wasn’t worth the effort. We’ll call that a win for the Soviets.
- History seems to remember Kiraly and Timmons as the prominent players from this USA team, but the most important guy in this match is Pat Powers. And it isn’t close. He is the guy who let the Americans compete.
- The Americans were relentless. They never stopped or let up or blinked, even when they **spoiler alert** were down 5-11 in the fifth (in sideout scoring).
Anyway, three sets from this iconic match are on You Tube below. You can make your own observations. Present are the first, second and fifth sets. There is a little break during the second set due to video tape degradation but hang in there, the picture comes back.
A lot of the information quoted here is the from excellent Volleyball Results website, here.
The Data Volley Match Report of the video is here.
More statistical detail of the USA team is here.
More statistical detail of the Soviet team is here.
If anyone has the other two sets, I would love to see them.
If anyone would like the raw Data Volley file for their own purposes, let me know in the comments.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.