The Russian men’s team won the FIVB Volleyball World League, despite several key players being absent. In the decisive match of the “Final Six,” which was held in the Argentinian city Mar del Plata, the team won unexpectedly easily in three sets, destroying its chief opponent, the Brazilian team.
For the third time, the Russian team has won the FIVB Volleyball World League, which basically replaces the World Championship in seasons when it is not held. As in the previous two finals—in 2002 and 2011—it defeated the Brazilian team. This success, perhaps, seems somehow even greater and more unexpected than the two previous ones, even though the Russians started the current games with the status of Olympic champions.
What made the win unexpected was the situation regarding the team’s lineup. Not many of the London champions were available to the new coach, Andrei Voronkov, who had replaced Vladimir Alenko. Only four of the Olympic players went to Mar del Plata: Dmitriy Muserskiy, Sergey Grankin, Nikolay Apalikov and Maxim Mikhaylov. Moreover, Mikhaylov, the leader of the Olympic team, had only barely recovered from a serious injury and could not yet play at full force.
A significant part of the volleyball players on the Russian team lacked the rich experience of the top competition, and their uneven performance in the preliminary stage did not seem to postulate the grand Argentinian finale.
Nevertheless, the Russian team shook everyone in the “Final Six.” It played the two most difficult matches in the group, beating the Brazilians in a tie-breaker and losing to the Canadians, also in five sets. In the semi-final, the Russians faced the Italians, who had been ahead of them in the group during the previous round. This time they were stronger, defeating their rivals in four sets.
Yet the team played its most brilliant match at the end of the tournament. The Brazilian coach, Bernardo Rezende, openly admitted that the outcome of the tournament’s decisive face-off was a shock for him. Usually, matches between the world’s two strongest teams are tough and dramatic, and seem to be on the brink of loss at any given moment—like the one in London, where the Russian team earned the gold.
This time it was different. The Russian team did not give the Brazilians—who retained most of their leading players after the Olympics—a chance. A struggle occurred only in the first set, which was won by the wards of Andrei Voronkov. In the next two sets, the Russian team, whose diagonal Nikolai Pavlov was recognized as the tournament’s most valuable player (Muserskiy was recognized as the best blocker), only allowed the opponent 19 points.
First published in Russian in Kommersant.
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