Reigning Olympic champions Russia will be targetting
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 1, 2016 - Things have not gone to plan for Russia’s volleyballers in the last two editions of the FIVB World League. Fifth place in 2014 was followed by a disappointing eighth place last year.
Andrey Voronkov subsequently resigned as national coach and was replaced by Vladimir Alekno. The man who led Russia to Olympic bronze in 2008 and then to the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics is looking to add another chapter to Russia’s success story in the FIVB World League.
This year’s showdown between the top teams in the world will also serve as a dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games in Rio. And Russia have set their sights on winning gold again in Brazil. Together with their predecessor state the Soviet Union, they are the record Olympic champions, with four gold medals to their name – just as they are the record world champions with six titles.
“It’s very important to play in the finals of the World League this year. Only there will my players have the chance to take on their future rivals at the Olympics,” said Alekno, looking ahead to the Finals which will be hosted by world champions Poland in Krakow from July 13 to 17.
In order to reach the final six, Russia must first survive the preliminary round. The Olympic champions will have home advantage when they start the first weekend of preliminary round matches in Kaliningrad from June 17-19. They will take on last year’s FIVB World League runners-up Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria.
“Poland are the world champions, the Serbs are building a new team, and the Bulgarians recently won the Wagner Memorial,” said Alekno, keen to warn against taking their opening opponents lightly.
2015 FIVB Volleyball World League champions France, hosts Poland, and Argentina await the Russians in the second preliminary round weekend, before they conclude their preliminary round campaign against Australia, Bulgaria and FIVB World Cup winners USA on American soil.
If all goes to plan, the preliminary round matches will be followed by an appearance at the Finals, where Russia will be hungry to add a fourth FIVB World League title to the ones they won in 2002, 2011 – under Alekno – and 2013.
The Russian head coach is using the FIVB World League to find the perfect team for the Olympic Games. “Olympics is truly a magic word. Everyone always works as hard as they can. It will be a really tough decision when it comes to naming the squad for Rio,” he said.
The squad for the FIVB World League includes nearly all the big stars again – only Butko is missing.
However, Aleksandr Volkov, one of the heroes of the 2012 Olympics, is ready for action.
Sergey Tetyukhin will turn 41 this year and captains the squad. “He is the only player guaranteed a place in the team,” said Alekno. The successful coach’s squad also features two remarkable comebacks: 2.18-metre giant Dmitriy Muserskiy is back in favour after missing the European Olympic Qualification Tournament in January – Russia won the tournament without him to secure the ticket to Rio. Also in the 21-strong squad, and perhaps a surprise addition, is Taras Khtey. He captained the Russian team in its Olympic victory in London in 2012, but had not played for the national team since due to various injuries.
Vladimir Alekno, who recently put his team through its paces at a training camp by the Black Sea, has an abundance of riches.
He knows that his team are probably one of the strongest physically, but that there are teams that are better technically. But Alekno is looking to spring more surprises. He is known for an ability to create surprises, particularly since the final of the 2012 Olympic Games, when playing Dmitriy Muserskiy at opposite hitter turned the game around against Brazil.
“I can only say that we will not play as we played before. We're going to change the style of action. But much will depend on those who remain in the team, on the players,” said Alekno.
Olympic specialist Alekno – he coached Russia in 2007/2008, 2011 /2012 and now 2015/2016 – has a contract until the end of the Olympic Games, and does not want to think beyond that. “A dream can come true there. All thoughts are on this and nothing else.” The FIVB World League looks set to be the perfect dress rehearsal. In 24 appearances, Russia have won 15 medals – 3 gold, 5 silver, 7 bronze. The plan is to add another this year.Russia – USA, FIVB World League 2015Russia – Brazil, Olympic Games 2012Dmitriy Muserskiy at the FIVB World League Finals 2013