Today I heard an interesting tidbit. Since the inception of World League in 1990, The winners of the competition in an Olympic year have gone on the win the Olympic Gold Medal 50% of the time. When the sun sets on Rio at the end of the this year’s Games, that figure will be lower. Inexplicably, World League was won this year by a team that had not qualified for the the Olympic Games. If your memory goes back to 2012, you might not be so surprised. All three 2012 medallists treated World League that year as an impediment to their preparation. Indeed they were so blatant that for this year’s event FIVB introduced a special rule to ensure that teams would send close to their best group to each match. In response, teams tried to manage their situations, and players, as best they could. And Serbia won. But winning and losing are not always on the scoreboard. Who were the real winners and losers?
Serbia were the obvious winners on the scoreboard. With only this event to focus on for the year and the disappointment of Berlin to drive them, they had a great tournament, including beating (Olympic Gold Medallist?) Brazil twice. They have a young team, and coach, and this year will have made them stronger.
Brazil won all their matches against Olympic participants, highlighted by beating a strong USA team playing with the second six. Although Murilo is now out for Rio, they showed that they are definitely the favourites for gold
DISAPPOINTED BUT NOT STRESSED TOO MUCH
France rested players at key moments, including Kevin Tillie for the whole finals. They will be disappointed to have lost again to Poland after leading 2-0, but will be delighted to have beaten Italy handily while playing below full strength. They showed only glimpses of their very best, but showed that their standard performance is now very high.
NOT LOSERS, BUT PRETTY STRESSED
Poland apart from the qualification in Japan, the summer has been a difficult one for Poland. Key players missed big chunks of the season for rest and injury rehab. They never got a chance to play their full team together and lost at home in the finals. Of course, nothing is lost. They showed great fight in many matches despite their difficulties and I am personally hoping they will play France in a big match in Rio. That game will be huge.
USA and Italy were the two teams that played their full teams in the finals. USA lost to the Brazilian second six to miss out on the semi finals and they seem to lack something of the cohesion that was qualified them so convincingly at World Cup less then 12 months ago. Italy lost France playing without their starting setter for the bronze medal. While playing better than the last months of the Berrutto era, they seemed to lack the consistency and perhaps also some of the quality of some of their predecessors. Both teams have some serious work to do, not least on their confidence in the next couple of weeks.
Serbia Can anyone say ‘Mexico’*.
Russia missed out on the finals after a series of lacklustre performances. It seems strange to count out the reigning Olympic Gold Medallists before the tournament even begins but nothing they have done since the 2014 World Championships has given any indication that they are playing for medals. Even master coach Alekno doesn’t seem to be making much of an impact beyond the qualification in January. It is tough to see how they will suddenly make a jump to being a contender in Rio.
FIVB Can anyone say ‘Mexico’
*This is meant as no slight to Mexico who fulfilled the requirements asked of them. It is also not to suggest that Serbia is the only ‘loser’ here. Germany were actually closer to qualification.