During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches. In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.
For the last rankings I will count down from bottom to top, and in two parts. If you make it to the end, you will see why. Part 1 is here. And here is Part 2…
MEN’S OLYMPIC VOLLEYBALL FINAL POWER RANKINGS – PART TWO
5 RUSSIA – After underwhelming for the last three years, it was a small surprise to see Russia as the only team from Pool B in the semi finals. Surprising that is, unless you take into account that it was their sixth semi final appearance in a row, that they were coached by Vladimir Alekno and led by the ageless legend Tetyukhin who played in all five previous semi finals. Mikhaylov returned for a while to his very best form but that deserted him on the last weekend. They really hammered the Americans weakness on float serve reception but couldn’t counter the fresh legs of Priddy. With Alekno staying in his post, and having blooded some younger guys, including Kliuka, they will be a team to watch out for in the next four year cycle.
4 USA – For some period of the tournament, USA were clearly the second best team. They got onto a roll with their serve that kept great ball control teams like France and Brazil completely off their game. At the same time they passed very well, and managed their high ball situations in attack at the highest level. They showed some glimpses of weakness against float serves, but noone was able to take advantage of it. Until the semi final. It seemed that most of the significant service series that Italy had were with their float servers. For example, the series of Birarelli at the end of the first set. (But obviously not the series from Zaytsev at the end of the fourth.) Russia too built a lead on that basis until the introduction of America’s Tetyukhin, Reid Priddy, stabilised their reception and turned the game around. They have a very young team that will nearly all be around in four years time. They should be excited about the future.
3 ITALY – There was something deeply satisfying as a fan to watch Italy rediscover their volleyball identity. While I often think that they play too conservatively, it is their way and noone else can do it like them (note to Italians coaching abroad). Of course, it was not as simple as just refocussing on a particular style. The emergence of Giannelli as a star and the naturalisation of Juantorena played huge roles in Italy’s resurgence. Juantorena in particular was fantastic in the semi final. His high ball hitting, particularly in P1, helped to blunt the effectiveness of the American serve and keep Italy in the game long enough for others to star. In the final they were very close, but from early in the match you could sense that it was Brazil’s time. It is certainly no shame to lose to Brazil at the Maracanazinho.
2 BRAZIL – I can’t imagine the pressure on the Brazilian team as they faced up to France in the last match of pool play just for a chance to qualify for the quarter finals they were expected by every single Brazilian to win. Until then, they had not played well. But luckily, in Bernardinho they had a coach who has been there and done that over and over again. And they were playing at home. From that moment, with Lipe in the starting lineup, they got better and better. To win an Olympic title having won the semi and final both 3-0 is a rare achievement and speaks to their best level. For me, Wallace was clearly the tournament MVP, although I could not have mounted a strong argument against Bruno. But sometimes the sentimental choice is okay, and Sergio has been a great servant for many years. This feels like it will be the end of the Bernardinho era. There were rumours that he wanted to finish after 2012 but was talked into staying for his home Olympics. He must be so tired. But satisfied.
1 CUBA (full team) – In 2010, Cuba reached the final of the World Championships with a very, very young team. As has been the way with Cuban volleyball in the last fifteen years, one by one, the players left Cuba to have a chance to earn what they were worth. The key players of that team, Leon, Leal and Simon, have subsequently become the dominant figures in the leagues of, respectively, Russia, Brazil and anywhere he chooses to play. The weakest of the starters in that team, opposite Hernandez, has developed into the second top scorer in Italy last season playing with setter Hierrezuelo. If you consider other expatriates like setter Gonzalez, receivers Juantorena, Marshall, Leyva and opposite Sanchez it is easy to come to the conclusion that with all players available Cuba would have had by far the strongest roster in the Olympics. However, aging dictators don’t become aging dictators by going soft in their old age or by admitting they were wrong. For volleyball fans that meant that we were denied the opportunity of seeing these amazing players, and for Cuba it meant giving up a ‘certain’ gold medal. Or at least certain in our Power Rankings. Everyone was a loser. Except Brazil, of course 😉
See you in four years time.
For the Power Rankings. I’ll be back with other ramblings later in the week.
Olympic great Vyacheslav Platonov reveals his coaching secrets here.