Coach Clayton Lucas balances his time between coaching and commentating for TV, you will almost certainly have heard his insightful words on the FIVB English language commentary. Here are his thoughts around the recent World Championships for men.
At the start of the event, Russia were everyone’s favourite to win the title after their dominant display at the Volleyball Nations League final. However, they were missing their starting setters from that final and instead brought Butko and Grankin. When I watched their first round match in Bari, I had my doubts about their ability to go all the way as the team dynamic was not the same.
The surprises of the event were Belgium and the Netherlands and they showed that they have the potential to be big players in the sport and for the Netherlands a possible resurgence of the good old days from the early 90’s. It was no surprise that Slovenia made it to the second round as they were the team that won Group 2 of the World League and should have been playing with the big boys this year, but the format changed and they had no chance to play. The third round was a big disappointment for me. Going from 16 teams to 6 teams did not work well and for those people who paid money to watch the stars of the game play volleyball, they did not get that chance as the semi final teams were decided within one game of round 3 and so the coaches (quite rightly) played the substitutes. Going from 16 to 8 would be a much better scenario and the world would have seen Canada and Belgium have a shot at a 🏅 In general the level of volleyball was very high and we got to see some very exciting and entertaining volleyball.
The two big talking points were the one match suspensions for Argentina coach Velasco and Brazil coach Renan. There were lots of social media comments about the two incidents, mostly from people with no idea of the process involved with dealing with such situations and also without the full knowledge of what lead to the actions of the coaches. I can say that the people who made the decisions regarding the sanctions did so according to the rules of the FIVB that have been in place since before the event. No new, different or special treatment was given to either coach. As for the incidents that happened – looking in from the outside it is easy to jump to conclusions and make assumptions of their actions. But unless you have ever been in their situations, it is foolish to take a position that condemns their actions without first taking into account many factors, most of which the public do not know. Back to the volleyball!! The semi finals were very exciting and by now most people were predicting USA v BRA or USA v SRB. Poland though had other ideas and they played a very good game that did not allow the USA to run their pipe attack and Polands serving pressure stopped the USA running the fast ball out wide. That meant Poland could put up 2 even 3 blockers and that in the end was the difference. Brazil were their usual gritty, resilient selves and they rammed the ball down Serbia’s throat from the middle, especially in transition, where Bruno and William were able to find Lucas and Souza with relative ease.
The bronze medal match was a battle between two tired looking teams and for once Serbia’s fighting spirit deserted them. The USA ground out the victory and in doing so highlighted how much they rely on Anderson,Russell and Sander.
The gold medal match was a great game to watch and despite the effort Poland had put in to beat the USA the day before, they came out swinging hard in the first set. Whilst we now know that the score was 3:0 to Poland, that first set was critical for both teams. 28:26 to Poland. Had it been Brazil, the game could just as easily have been 3:0 for them and a defeat for Poland. Kurek and Kubiak will get a lot of credit in the public eye for what they did to help Poland win, but the 20 year old Kochanowski was also very good. Making jump serves, blocks and big hits through the middle, he more than helped Poland achieve the win. Poland will go back home heroes, Brazil will go back home to a public who demand only the best and in their eyes Brazil were not the best and silver is not an achievement. Not many people would have predicted a Poland Brazil final before this event started and it is likely that the finalists in 4 years time (Russia and Netherlands currently potential hosts) will also be teams that few will have predicted. That is what has made this event once again, despite the format, a magnificent tournament to watch.