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22 Jul 2016

Volleyball legend Gouveia runs the rule over Rio 2016 contenders

Antônio Gouveia, an Olympic champion with the Brazilians at Barcelona 1992, picks put the main contenders for mens volleyball gold at Rio 2016.

One of the high points of the final day of London 2012 was the men’s volleyball final, held a few hours before the Closing Ceremony in front of a noisy crowd in Earls Court.

The 13th Olympic final in history, it pitted together the competition’s two most successful sides of all time: Brazil and Russia. While the Brazilians had won gold at Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004 and silver at Los Angeles 1984 and Beijing 2008, the Russians were three-time champions, having won the title at Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968 and Moscow 1980 as the USSR. They had also collected a silver and two bronzes since Sydney 2000.

It was a match that lived up to all expectations. After winning the opening two sets 25-19 and 25-20, Brazil seemed set for gold when they earned two match points in the third. Inspired by their middle blocker Dmitriy Muserskiy, however, the Russians somehow stayed in the game, eventually taking that third set 29-27, winning the fourth 25-22 and then clinching a breathless tie-breaking fifth set 15-9, with Muserskiy fittingly hitting the winning smash.

It was the first time a team had ever come from two sets down to win Olympic gold. In the battle for the bronze, Italy beat Bulgaria in four sets to finish on the podium for a sixth time.

Brazil came off second best again in the 2014 FIVB World Championships in Poland, losing 3-1 to the hosts in the final, with Germany beating France 3-0 to complete the podium. In the World League, meanwhile, Russia took the honours in 2013, with the USA and France following suit in the last two years.

The Americans were on top again at last year’s World Cup in Japan, pipping Italy, Poland and Russia to the title. With the exception of Germany, all the teams that took part in that competition will be at Rio 2016, and are expected to figure large once more in the battle for the Olympic title

One man who knows what it takes to win it is Antônio “Carlão” Gouveia, a gold medallist with Brazil at Barcelona 1992. Looking ahead to next month’s Olympics, he names the teams he believes will contend for honours at what will be the 14th consecutive Olympic volleyball competitions since the sport made its debut on the programme at Tokyo 1964.

Four to watch

“The main teams that the fans will have to watch in 2016 will be Brazil, Italy, USA and Russia,” said Carlão, who played in all eight of his country’s matches at the 1992 Olympic tournament, which ended with Brazil beating the Netherlands in three straight sets to win gold.

“Italy have dropped off a little of late,” he said of La Squadra Azzurra, who achieved top-three finishes in the World League in 2013 and 2014. “They had a very strong team in the 1990s, but they’ve fallen away since then. Even so, they’ve had their moments in the last few years, thanks in no small part to Ivan Zaytsev, who is an absolutely fantastic player. We have to watch out for the Italian team.”

Turning his attention to the USA, who beat Brazil to win their third Olympic title at Beijing 2008 but went down to Italy in the last eight at London 2012, Gouveia said: “The US have always been a very strong team. They’ve always made a point of preparing very well for the Olympics. They’re a very tactically astute team.

“They can surprise you, especially with the way they play, though there could be the odd time when they will feel the pressure at the Games, due to their passing game and the fact they have a young team.” 

As for defending champions Russia, the 1992 gold-medal winner had this to say: “The Russian team are always strong opponents. They always play with a heavy block and their players can operate in any position.

“They really are a formidable volleyball team and have so many tactical options at their disposal. The Russians have a lot of physical strength, height and technical quality.”

As regards the host nation, whose men have lost in the last two Olympic finals, and whose women beat the USA to win gold in 2008 and 2012, Gouveia had this to say: “There’s no question Brazil need to be relaxed about playing at home. There will be a lot of pressure on them to get a result.

“Obviously with all that pressure on us, we’ll need to be very alert and try to make sure that the pressure of the fans and the score doesn’t get to us. I don’t know if it’s going to be gold, silver or bronze, but I do think we can make the podium, in both the men’s and women’s events.”
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