Best Match I Ever Saw

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The first big volleyball tournament I ever saw and / or participated in was the 1986 World Promotional Championships. Because they were the first tournament, they were the venue of a lot of other firsts. The first best player I ever saw live (Ricardo Goicochea, Franco Bertoli, Bengt Gustavsson). The first best spike I ever saw. And of course the first best match I ever saw.

It was the semi final of the tournament, meaning that the winner qualified for the World Championships and the loser would have a tough match against Greece for the last spot. The match went over three hours, ending after midnight. The last two sets went to advantage with match and set points being swapped, and match winning leads being built and blown. Finally it was won by Italy and I was exhilarated, even if I was quietly cheering for Canada. The match recently popped up on YouTube and you know, I had to watch it.

Some of my thoughts and comments and feelings…

  • I made a note that Errichiello was really fast to react to a high ball set poorly to position 4 and attacked it from the backrow. Then I made another note. The third time I realised it was a set play. They deliberately set high balls to position 5 instead of 4.
  • Speaking of inexplicable tactics, Canada organised their lineup so they had a rotation with no first tempo and a backrow player running a fake first tempo. It didn’t always work out, although it did create some unintentional comedy.
  • As part of that lineup, Canada had some rotations with virtually one receiver, Stelio DeRocco… to whom Italy thoughtfully served.
  • Canada also received the jump servers with only two receivers. Italy always used four. I can’t help but think that might have made some difference in the end.
  • Paul Gratton was really good at spiking.
  • So was Franco Bertoli.
  • There were quite a few goofy footers (i.e. left – right footwork for the last step), including Glenn Hoag.
  • There seemed to be more net touches than one would expect.
  • Canada led for most of the fourth and had seven set points, of which they hit two out. Then Italy had match points at 15-14 before Canada came back and won. Italian setter Lazzeroni set almost exclusively first tempo while clawing back that lead.
  • Canadian setter Dave Jones played a lot of first tempo in transition which is pretty rare in other matches I have watched from this era.
  • In 2020 there are almost no tips from the backrow because they are too easy to defend. Not so in 1986. Italy manage three of them spiking from position 5. Something else you don’t see in 2020.
  • Canada’s John Barrett sprained his ankle at 0-0 in the fifth. That might have been important.
  • Italy led 8-3 in the fifth before Canada fought back… 10-5, 11-8, 12-10, 13-13… then match point for Italy 14-13, 14-14, two match points for Canada 14-15… then on the fourth match point at 16-15, Italy wins after 17-15 and after 3.5 hours. It was breathtaking stuff for an 18 year old.

It is impossible to watch these matches without the perspective of the volleyball played in 2020 and especially of specialisation. We take it for granted that the best players at different elements focus on those elements, while the team is structured to take advantage of those strengths. Specialisation makes such an enormous difference to how the game is played and on how we think about it. On that basis, it is difficult not to think that Italy were a bit more specialised and that is what made the difference.

Here is the second half of the match. It is difficult to really understand what is going on because of the TV angle and how radically each rotation is different from the other. So I have prepared some ‘cheat sheets’. I made these so I could follow what the hell was going on. It took me a while!

Tagged Volleyball History, 1986 Volleyball World Championships, Matches From History


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