Canada's Men's National team took a big step to get back into the mix with a convincing 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 27-25) win over Venezuela this morning in Tokyo.
Gord Perrin led the way for the Maple Volleys with 16 points while Gavin Schmitt chipped in another 11 to get things done cleanly. With all three matches going the distance so far, Canada leads the tournament in sets played so far, and will be able to use the time to rest up before a big match against France at 9:10 p.m. ET/ 6:10 p.m. PT.
Past the halfway point of the tournament, Canada finds itself right the the thick of the standings in 5th - behind China only by set ratio (1.5 vs. 1.25). At this point, it looks like teams are going to need at least 4 wins for a shot at the Top Four - and that fourth spot will most likely be dictated by a tie-breaker.
After four games, the top teams are starting to pull away. Undefeated, Poland's already reached four wins, and will most likely clinch their spot against Venezuela tomorrow morning. Iran is also on the verge of clinching their first Olympic berth with a massive game against China standing in their way. A win for the Iranians tonight would give them four wins, but more importantly it would improve them to 3-0 against the other Asian teams.
Tonight's test might be one of the hardest of the tournament.
France is one of the hottest teams in the world at the moment, and might be the most fun to watch as well. The reigning World League and European Champions - Les Bleus have a roster that's exploding with talent, allowing them to play a free-flowing style of game that's hard to keep up with. In essence - they do everything really, really well and have the superstars who are able to do it. They even set another record this morning against Australia - winning the match by taking the fourth 44-42. (Actually it ties the FIVB record for most points in a set with a 1999 World League showdown between Canada and Brazil in Hull, Quebec)
Their biggest star, Earvin N'Gapeth might be the most talked-about volleyball player on the planet in the past year - with antics both on and off the court attributing to that fact. While we're not here to judge his off-court life - you can't deny he's one of the best outsides in the world at the moment. Adding Antonin Rouzier, who passed Gavin for points leader this morning, and former TRU Wolfpack Kevin Tillie to the mix will give the Maple Volleys all they can handle.
If Canada's to win, they're going to have to play there best ball of the tournament, and tighten up their execution and capitalize on there opportunities - France will make them pay for errors, but will punish soft play just the same. The Maple Volleys have shown a high-level of execution in flashes against Poland and Iran, but have been unable to sustain it long enough to take control of a match completely. Costly errors at even worse times have haunted the red and white so far this tournament - leaving them with a record of 2-2 instead of 4-0.
Despite their recent struggles at putting a complete game together - there's little question that if the Maple Volleys are at their best - not many teams in this world can stop them.