The overwhelming favourite going into the 1992 Olympic Games was Italy. They were reigning World Champions, with the strongest league and team full of stars from top to bottom. Fabio Vullo, considered by many as the best setter in the world at the time was back in the team after three years ‘rest’. With them were the Commonwealth of Independent States, the new name for the old Soviet Union. They had welcomed back coaching legend Vyacheslav Platonov who quickly turned the team around, winning both European Championships and World Cup in 1991. Poor performances had convinced the United States coach Fred Sturm to change policy and allow players based in Europe to play. Stork, Timmons and Ctvrtlik returned to the team although after much debate and discussion Karch declined the invitation. The stage was set.
In the quarter finals, Italy met The Netherlands. The Netherlands had had a disappointing couple of years after being expected to make a big jump in the late 1980s. They recalled coach Arie Selinger, but still only beat Korea and Algeria in the group phase. When Peter Blange sprained his ankle early in the match, Italy’s path seemed clear. But in one of the all time greatest upsets in Olympic history, The Netherlands won 17-16 (in the only Olympic tournament played with the ridiculous tiebreak cap of 17). Some thoughts from the quarter final…
- The Italians looked to have the match in hand at 2-1 with the second setter playing for Netherlands. But then had one of the worst sets in Olympic history. 2-15 with Vullo spraying the ball around. 4 direct hitting errors, 5 blocks with an ace and an overpass. Plus a large number of very stressed looks.
- They were still shellshocked in the fifth and had to fight back to even make it close.
All the other favourites also fell by the wayside to leave The Netherlands to play the young Brazilian team in the final. I really love watching this Brazilian team play. The team is young, athletic, dynamic and aggressive and their style of play would fit more neatly into 2020 then any other team of the 1990s. Some thoughts from the final…
- Giovane is the prototype for Giba. I was shocked at the similarity. Giovane is, if anything, even more dynamic though. Some of the behind the court shots of him spiking are amazing.
- Blocking apparently still hadn’t been invented yet, and serving was just slowly developing. Brazil’s sideout percentage for the match was 79%. Both teams first ball sideout percentage was over 50%.
- Negrao was a really good spiker. Especially for a 20 year old.
- There are still some specialisation issues here. Some things seem needlessly complicated. It isn’t as bad as 1986.
- There are things here that we inexplicably didn’t see again for another 15 years or more… receivers hitting pipes, setters setting pipes from past the 3m line, first contact setting directly to a spiker, attacking ‘loose’ balls close to the net on the second contact.
- I remembered the first time I watched this match (1993?) feeling bad for the Dutch team. From the middle of the second set onwards, you can feel how badly they are playing and a sense of doom. Even when they were up 5-0 in the 3rd. At times they seemed lost. I felt the same thing again.
- Ron Zwerver had a pretty good match on paper (7+23, 57% attack), but made 10 hitting errors.
- I was reminded of watching the 1996 Final and thinking that Henk Jan Held is the most underrated player of that period. He is their best player here and was pretty great in 1996.
- I’m not sure why van der Meulen didn’t play more. He was really good in beating Italy.
- I don’t really understand why this Brazilian team didn’t challenge for more medals in the following years.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.