World Cup: Mid-Point Update
We’ve reached the mid-way point of the 2019 FIVB World Cup in Japan after 5 matches in 6 days. All teams get a few days off as the tournament shifts from Nagano and Fukuoka to Hiroshima, where the remainder of the matches will be played.
It’s been an interesting tournament so far as it really doesn’t matter for much other than points, as there’s no Olympic spot up for grabs, which is really the only point to hold this tournament. Because of this, we’re seeing some different teams and some different lineups than we usually would.
The top three teams: 🇧🇷Brazil, 🇺🇸USA, and 🇵🇱Poland, have all brought their top teams, most likely to start preparing for 2020 Olympics as they all qualified back in August.
🇧🇷 Brazil has been dominant and remains the only undefeated team. They were one of the recipients of the Cuban lottery, picking up outside powerhouse Leal to bolster their roster opposite of Lucarelli. This was a position that has provided some troubles for Brazil - and so far through an event and a half, they are looking scary.
The biggest story for the reigning Olympic Championships has been the play of Alan Souza, who has stepped in as Opposite in place of Wallace. You would think not having one of the best in the world would create a hole in 🇧🇷Brazil’s lineup, but instead, Alan Souza is leading not only his team in scoring, but the tournament as a whole. He’s long and explosive, a lot like Wallace, so it’s not a huge change, but it shows how deep this squad is when they can lose one of their top point producers, and replace him with someone just as efficient.
The 🇺🇸 USA started in typical fashion - a 3-2 loss to Argentina. Since then, they’ve been perfect, including a 3-1 win over defending World Champions Poland. Unlike what we saw at the NORCECA Championships in Winnipeg, they brought out all of the big guns. As expected, the two former Nittany Lions Matt Anderson and Aaron Russell have been leading the way offensively, as Micah Christenson continues to dish.
The big question mark for the USA is the P2 position as Taylor Sander recovers from a shoulder injury. The return of Thomas Jaeschke during VNL would point towards him filling that spot, but the former Loyola-Chicago Rambler might have the worst luck in the game, as he dislocated his shoulder in the match against Poland, and has returned to the USA to get it assed. Definitely less serious than rupturing his ACL - but still never want to see a guy go down after he’s just come back.
For 🇵🇱 Poland, this is the first time we’ve seen both Wilfredo Leon and Bartosz Kurek on the team at the same time. Kurek is still coming back from injury, so he hasn’t been the go-to starter, but we’ve still seen them on the court together a few times.
If ever there was a situation where you have too much fire power, this might be it. When you’ve got two guys who want the ball as much as these guys do, someone’s going to be left out. Even if you’re keeping them both happy, are they going to be able to keep the other guys engaged as well? I guess we’ll see - but there’s no doubt this World Cup is the perfect time to work on that chemistry.
The only other teams with over .500 records are 🇯🇵Japan and 🇷🇺Russia. The hosts are taking advantage of being the fan-favourites, but have also performed when they needed to. Their opening match featured a big 3-0 win over the 🇮🇹Italian B team on the backs of Yuki Ishikawa and 19-year old Yuji Nishida. Ishikawa has been the go-to scorer on the outside for the 🇯🇵Japanese for a few seasons now - but the 6’1 lefty has added another dimension to Japan’s offence, with a dynamic ability to hit from the back almost as well as he does in the front, while being a serious threat from the baseline.
The two are becoming one of the best one-two punches in the world, with Ishikawa scoring 67 points while hitting a .605 and Nishida scoring 65 while hitting a .545. They head into the break with a 3-2 record where their only “easy” match was against 🇹🇳Tunisia (let’s be honest, Tunisia winning a match would be the surprise of the tournament. Losses against 🇵🇱Poland and the 🇺🇸USA are expected, but coming out big against Italy and taking home a 3-1 battle with 🇦🇷Argentina to close out the first-half is definitely giving 🇯🇵Japanese fans something to look forward to.
The VNL Champs, 🇷🇺Russia, have had an interesting tournament so far, with some hot and cold results. A 3-2 loss to 🇦🇺Australia was the first time they’ve lost to the VolleyRoos ever, and they went down 2-0 to 🇨🇦Canada before they were able to eek out a 3-2 comeback in a match where the Maple Volleys made 29 errors. They followed that up by getting absolutely pumped 3-0 to 🇧🇷Brazil, and then eeking out a 3-1 win over 🇪🇬Egypt where they didn’t show up until later in the match. Maybe a change of scenery will help Grankin and company find some consistency.
🇪🇬Egypt has definitely been one of the surprises of the tournament - kicking things off with wins over 🇦🇺Australia and 🇮🇷Iran. Beating the Aussies is arguably an upset - but the win over the Asian Champs definitely is. They’ve cooled off a little since then, with three-straight losses to 🇧🇷Brazil, 🇨🇦Canada, and 🇷🇺Russia - but made all three battle hard, especially Canada, where they went down 0-2 and battled back to push for a 5th. After the win, both Canadian Head Coach and Captain Nick Hoag agreed this was a much different Egypt than we’re used to seeing.
All-time 🇪🇬Egyptian great, 35-year old Ahmed Abdelhay continues to lead this team, so it will be interesting to see if he can hold up with 6-matches still remaining. Luckily for him, he’s had some help this around from 25-year old Ahmed Shafik - as the two lead the team with 74 points a piece, tied for 4th in the tournament. After that, there’s not match so they better hope both players stay healthy.
🇦🇷Argentina is another team who started hot and have cooled off. They opened with the first upset of the tournament, taking down the 🇺🇸USA 3-2 , and followed that with a 3-0 rom of 🇹🇳Tunisia. Three straight losses have brought them back to reality. The 3-2 loss to a under-manned 🇮🇹Italy was definitely a missed opportunity, while the 3-1 to hosts Japan to finish the first half was a dagger.
This is a much different team than the ones we’ve seen in the past; there’s no Facundo Conte, Luciano DeCecco, Sebatian Solé - basically without all their best players. Despite this - they still manage to field a solid squad of guys trying to make a name for themselves. Agustin Loser has been impressive, sitting 2nd in the tournament with 78 points, while 5’6 setter Matias Sanchez has been dazzling to watch.
🇮🇷Iran has been using this tournament to tryout some of their younger guys - with a number a players from this summer’s U21 World Championship team mixing in with veterans like Saied Maroufl and Milad Ebadipour. 19-year old Porya Yali leads the team with 67 points, while another, Amirhosseini Asfandir, has seen significant time and has contributed 38 points of his own.
Opening with 3-1 losses to 🇷🇺Russia and 🇪🇬Egypt were learning opportunities before slugging through a 3-1 win over 🇨🇦Canada where the 🇮🇷Iranians made 25-errors but got 29 in return from the Maple Volleys, and another error-filled (30 errors on both sides) 3-1 win over 🇦🇺Australia. Surprisingly, their best effort was the 3-1 loss to 🇧🇷Brazil - the young 🇮🇷Iranians came out flying, and it seemed like they had a 2-1 lead after a pipe gave them a 25-23 win in the 2nd, before a Challenge showed Yali had the tiniest touch of the attack line. After it was called back, the young team crumbled and 🇧🇷Brazil took over - but for three sets we saw the future of 🇮🇷Iranian volleyball, and it’s scary good.
🇮🇹Italy has had a rough go at things, only picking up wins over 🇦🇷Argentina and 🇹🇳Tunisia - but it’s really to be expected as all their top players had finished they European Championships just a day before the start of the tournament. Gabriele Nelli has been having a stellar tournament, sitting 3rd in scoring with 76 points - but that’s about it for the Azzuri.
🇦🇺Australia is a team that has threatened to be good, but haven’t been able to put it together - probably due to their complete lack of firepower. Lincoln Williams leads things for the VolleyRoos with 73 points, good for 6th in overall scoring, but is sorely lack support as the next highest scorer is a man who was wearing a Brandon Bobcats jersey last year, James Weir with 33. This isn’t to say they haven’t been playing good volleyball - their only win came over Russia, a first for the program, and they made things interesting in all their matches if you don’t count facing 🇧🇷Brazil. Luckily for the men from down under - they’ve got a match-up with 🇹🇳Tunisia that will hopefully give them a bit of a boost. The African nation is really only in attendance because each zone gets two spots - the 22nd-ranked team in the world did manage to take a set off of 🇦🇷Argentina - but that’s about it. If you’re a 🇨🇦Canadian fan, you can watch them take on the Maple Volleys Tuesday the 7th at 10:00pm ET/ 7:00pm PT, to start the second half of the tournament in Hiroshima.