Drama (and more drama) at RioJune 22, 2016
The World Olympic Qualifying Tournaments are done, which completed the twelve national teams that will compete against each other at Rio de Janeiro. And the FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) or International Volleyball Federation released the pool composition.
Volleyball is one of the marquee sport of the Summer Olympics. Sports fans love drama, and they couldn't get enough of it. For instance, some members of the Brazilian women's national volleyball team thought some fans couldn't let go of the highly-charged semifinal match between Brazil and Cuba at the 1996 Olympics. The Brazilian charges were touted to advance to the gold-medal match after beating the Cubans in straight sets during the group stage. Not a few Cuban fans were worried that the domination of the Cuban women's national volleyball team would come to an end in Atlanta. But Cuba demolished the US in the quarterfinals. Mireya Luis, the captain of the Cuban squad, rose to the challenge after Cuba trailed Brazil by 1-2. The Cubans won the fifth set convincingly, which was followed by an emotional face-off between the players at the net. If not for that ungracious moment between the two teams, then this match might have been forgotten by now.
Brazilian fans are a raucous lot, so expect them to incite more drama at the GinÃ¡sio do MaracanÃ£zinho. Let's do a breakdown. We start off with the men's competition:
Pool analysis: In any team sports, expect the strongest teams to be pitted against each other during the group stage. In this case, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, and the US found themselves in the same group. Past results will suggest that Canadians and Mexicans packing their bags before the knockout stage. No one wants to play Poland and Russia in the quarterfinal match of the knockout stage. (Poland and Russia are expected to top Group B.) France beat Brazil in GinÃ¡sio do MaracanÃ£zinho a year ago, which led to their first FIVB World League title. Brazilians and Italians have close matches in the past. The Americans, who won the World Cup last September, can upstage anyone.
Prediction: The final result of the Group A matches will come down to the win-loss quotient. Brazil will finish on top, but the gold medal will be another thing. Hometown fans will witness another heartbreak. Poland, the reigning world champion, finished first in the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Japan. If they keep up their (winning) form, then they won't repeat the disappointing finish at the World Cup.
Dark horse: If you read the news, then you know the uncertain fate of the Russian athletes. It will be unfair to see the Russian men's national volleyball team watching the action from the telly. Russia is the defending champion. Volleyball won't be complete without them. And Brazilian fans want to see a face-off between their hometown team and the Russians. Can Brazil avenge the dramatic loss to Russia in London? It might be decided on the fifth set.
Who will miss the action: The Australians have a good shot of qualifying for Rio, but they finished fifth at Tokyo. "It's a crushing loss. We had a chance to secure a trip to the Olympics today," said Australian captain Thomas Edgar. The Polish team handily beat the Australians in straight sets (3-0).
Let's look at the women's competition:
Pool analysis: Brazil is expected to top Group A with Russia as its strongest competition. There's no love lost between the two teams, which would go back to the 2006 World Championships. Let's not forget the tense quarterfinal match between the two at the London Olympics with the fifth set ending at 21-19. The Russian women have inconsistent results, so it's not hard to see them in second place after the group phase. However, Group B consists of China, Italy, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Serbia, and the US. Expect the Americans to finish on top, followed by the Serbians, Chinese, and Italians. What does this mean?
Prediction: The Brazilian women have performed strongly in home soil, so fans will see them in the gold-medal match. Who will play them? The Russians manage to raise their game when they need it, but luck will play a part. A Brazil-US match will be an intriguing game. Karch Kiraly helped the American women to become perennial contenders. He's the only player to win a gold medal in indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, so coaching a gold-medal winning team will seal his legacy.
Dark horse: If the Russians were consistent, they should have clinched an Olympic spot at the World Cup. But they waited for the European Olympic Qualifying Tournament. If they beat the Brazilians in the group stage, they might end up competing for the gold. They might need all the luck, though.
Who will miss the action? The Dominican Republic women's national volleyball team have their best result at the London Olympics. They made it to the last eight, but they won't have another chance to match the feat. They fell short at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Tokyo.
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