By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil defeated Russia 3-1 on Sunday to claim their ninth World Volleyball League title in Cordoba, Argentina, their eighth in the last nine years. The South Americans secured a 25-22, 25-22, 16-25, 25-23 win in front of a packed crowd at the city’s Orfeo Superdomo.
For the uninitiated, the World League is just one of several international competitions organized by the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB). Unlike the more prestigious World Cup and World Championships, which operate on a four year cycle, the World League takes place annually but is still a major prize, with up to USD$20 million to be shared out.
The opening set was nerve wracking, with both sides refusing to give way; Brazil led 8-6 at the first Technical Time Out only for the Russians to pull the score back to 11-11, their main threat coming from the powerful serves of Dmitry Muserskiy, and Brazil never looked like they had the measure of him but they were able to counter with some impressive work from Marlon and Theo.
Both sides had their star offensive player; Dante for Brazil and Mikhaylov for Russia both put in excellent displays on the night, but it was Brazil who managed to sneak ahead 22-17 before Russian coach Daniele Bagnoli called a time out. The rest period did not break Brazil’s concentration, and a beautiful spike from Murilo sealed the first set for the Brazilians.
The second set began just as the first, with both sides deploying a no risk strategy in the tight opening stages. As the set wore on it developed into a fascinating duel between Mikhaylov and Murilo. Whereas Mikhaylov seemed to be carrying the Russian cause on his shoulder alone at times, Murilo was supported tirelessly by Theo and Dante.
The attacking trio put on a scintillating spectacle for their supporters, continuously interchanging between strong spikes and soft touches as Brazil edged ahead 16-15. As Brazil took a 21-19 lead, Russia coach Bagnoli again called time out, but again to little effect as Dante smashed the winning point to give Brazil a 2-0 lead.
Russia started the third set far more offensively; Mikhaylov and Muserskiy combined effectively to give Russia an early 5-2 lead, and from then on they never relinquished the advantage, opening up a 14-8 lead. Dante tried to lead the resistance for Brazil, but Russia’s blocking stamped them out and the South Americans looked like less of a unit than in the previous two sets, and Muserskiy scored the final three points to give Russia an easy third set.
The momentum was now fully with Russia, and the Mikhaylov-Muserskiy combination helped them take an 8-6 lead into the first Technical Time Out of the fourth set. However, Dante took on the mantle of the Brazilian cause single-handedly, and helped his side take the lead for the first time in the set at 14-13.
The impetus continued to swing as some excellent cross court spikes from Beezhko gave the Russians an 18-16 lead, but some inspirational words from veteran coach Bernardinho fired belief back into his team and they leveled the set at 20-20. The crowd grew increasingly vociferous as the tension heightened, and two more spikes from Dante and a long serve from Krasikov gave Brazil their ninth title.
Dante was jubilant at the end. “It was outstanding,” he said. “Russia were very strong but we put pressure on their serving and we had the power of using their mistakes.”
Brazil coach Bernardinho added: “This is a very important title. We made too many mistakes in the third set but we got into the match again in the fourth,” before going on to pick up the one million dollar winners’ check.