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By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The FIVB finalized the 2011 calendar for the World Tour in mid-December and action is set to kick off in Brasília, Brazil’s capital city, on April 18th. This year will have some added stakes; an Olympic Games qualifying test for the women that will take place from August 9th to 14th.

Larissa Franca will hope to carry her excellent form into 2011, photo from FIVB.com.

Producing some of the world’s best players, volleyball is the second only to football (soccer) in popularity throughout Brazil. The sport promises to generate even more excitement thanks to last year’s impressive season and the upcoming activity in the 18 months leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London,

The Beach Volleyball Continental Cup, launched in 2010, is a new addition to the 2012 Olympic Games qualifying process and has been a breakthrough event with record numbers of athletes and countries participating.

It is a country versus country event over a two year period broken down into sub zone, zone and continental finals. The winner will qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games if the country has not already qualified via the world rankings.

Jizhong Wei, the FIVB president, claimed that new resources, competitions and initiatives will “set the platform for long term growth.” He added, “We must continue to focus on the long term to ensure the world of volleyball continues to go from strength to strength.”

Brazil’s female team enjoyed a hugely successful 2010 and will be looking to push on for further honors in the new year. The nation’s strongest pair, Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca, returned with an astonishing 33 medals last year, which included an overwhelming victory in the SWATCH FIVB World Tour.

Felisberta and Franca, who enjoyed a lethal combination since their opening event together in 2004, have gathered momentum following convincing victories on the World Tour. They collected their fourth title on the 2010 tour despite not playing in the last two events.

Juliana Felisberta helped make history in 2010 as one half of female beach volleyball's most successful partnership, photo from FIVB.com.

The duo have amassed an astonishing 36 titles and in 2010 alone earned an unmatched 70-7 victory return over twelve competitions. The 2010 SWATCH success was their fifth crown in six years, and their seven international gold medals for the year officially made them the most successful partnership in female beach volleyball history.

Felisberta and Franca topped the end-of-year 2010 rankings, having accumulated a whopping 7,200 points over the tour. The pair’s achievements are doubly impressive considering they finished over 1,000 points ahead of their nearest competitors and compatriots, Maria Antonelli and Talita Antunes.

While not quite as successful as the women, Brazil’s male pairings put in impressive performances to round out the year well. Ali Cerutti and Emanuel Rego finished runners up to the US pair of Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, the first pair of Americans to top the rankings since 1993.

With the first leg of 2011’s world calendar occurring in Brazil, thousands of tourists are expected to make the trip to Brasília for the opening week. Regardless of nationality, the majority of eyes will no doubt be on Brazil’s deadly duo of France and Felisberta.

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