“It is just amazing to be here” says Algeria’s coach George Strumilo. “We have a very young squad as we have added to the group some players from the junior national team. This is a unique opportunity for our volleyball family as we try to showcase the development that the sport has been lately going through around Africa”.
Japan claimed bronze at the 2010 FIVB World Championship but since that result the ladies mentored by Masanori Miyabe have failed to show consistency going through many ups and downs. The team is primarily targeting the qualification for the 1/4 finals and from there may eventually try to go for something more, even though the days – back in the ‘60s and ‘70s – where Japan was the major force of women’s volleyball look like a distant memory.
Italy and the Dominican Republic were also assigned to Pool A and will cross their ways on Saturday. “Our intention is to make it out of Pool play and then advance to the semis as our goal is to stay in up to the end of the tournament where the medals will be eventually at stake” stresses coach Massimo Barbolini. On the other hand, the Dominican Republic did cause the major sensation of the Olympic qualification process as the group shut out Cuba, one of the top teams of the past couple of decades with an accolade of 3 consecutive Olympic gold medals. “We had prepared for four years, for the complete Olympic cycle, to play this game with Cuba and qualify for the Olympics” says coach Marcos Kwiek. “We knew this was going to be our last step to fulfill our Olympic dream and are glad we could finally make it through. Italy has got a very strong group and is clearly a medal contender here in London, so this first game will be a good indication of where we currently stand” he adds.
In that same group the home heroines from Great Britain will celebrate their first Olympic appearance on Saturday at 14:45 local time by playing the 2010 world champions of Russia. This is immediately a very demanding challenge for the home side and coach Audrey Cooper – who was also an Olympian as she participated in the beach volleyball tournament of the 1996 Games in Atlanta – just can’t wait for it. “We are finally ready to go after some years of hard work and as I welcome all of our opponents to London, I am glad to state that people will have the chance to watch world-class volleyball for the first time here in Great Britain. Even though it may sound a little pretentious, since we have a young and rather inexperienced team, we also pursue the goal of making it to the 1/4 finals”.
In Pool B the 2011 European champions of Serbia will be playing China as they try to start their Olympic adventure via a good result. The Chinese ladies recently suffered a setback at the finals of the FIVB World Grand Prix in Ningbo, where their coach lamented the effects of a vegetarian diet as the reason for the lack of grip and rhythm of his players.
Asked to comment on the current state of his group, Yu Juemin said: “We have been working very hard to improve the fitness and general condition of our players after the Grand Prix and I think we are on the right track”.
However, the real highlight of the day will be the game opposing the 2008 Olympic champions of Brazil and rookie Turkey. To cap a terrific development that saw the local clubs sky-rocket to the continental elite, Turkey historically qualified for its first Olympics this past May and this was quite understandably a topic that coach Marco Aurelio Motta wanted to touch upon. “It is a real pleasure to be here and celebrate Turkey’s first appearance at the Olympics. This is a great moment for our country and I hope we can extend our stretch of good results also on the Olympic arena”.
Brazil will be a first good test of Turkey’s credentials for a spot in the 1/4 finals and coach Zé Roberto will see on the other side of the net some of the players he has been guiding for the last couple of seasons while mentoring Turkey’s powerhouse Fenerbahce Istanbul. Questioned about his decision to leave out Fabiola from the roster for the Olympics, he says: “It was a purely technical choice. She used to be a member of our starting six or anyway of our roster, but this time I have opted for other players with the clear goal of making it as far as possible in the competition”.
After sweeping all of their matches in the FIVB World Grand Prix that was completed only a few weeks ago, Team USA is probably the top contender for Olympic gold here in London but Hugh McCutcheon – who may go for a second Olympic allure after the title he claimed 4 years ago with the men – is cautious and does not want to make any predictions as the tournament is still to start. “We just take it match by match as we know there are many strong teams” he stresses. Setter Lindsey Berg recently tweeted, right after her first training at Earls Court, that she feels like this venue may turn into the right place for Team USA to come out on top of the charts. “I am happy to know that Lindsey feel so comfortable here, this is certainly a good omen but I would prefer not comment on her statement” reports the coach from New Zealand.
Their first match will be against Korea whose main star, Kim Yeon-Koung, was voted MVP of the Champions League finals this past March in Baku, Azerbaijan. “We are coming back to the Olympics after 8 years as we had missed out on a spot for the Games in Beijing” says coach Kim Hyung-Sil. “Therefore we feel some pressure but at the same time are motivated to perform well, starting right from our first match against a very strong American side”.