Lausanne, Switzerland, July 19, 2016 - Immediately after a historic victory for their country, fans in Krakow celebrated their volleyball heroes with choruses of "Serbia, Serbia" – and in Serbia, the "Million Dollar Boys" were in every conversation the day after their first ever FIVB Volleyball World League triumph.
Thousands liked the photos of the victory on social media channels, and the TV, radio and newspapers were full of reports on the "wonder of Krakow". “Sixth-time lucky, our volleyball team finally won the World League. Magic, fantasy, wonder,” wrote Politika, the oldest and most important daily newspaper in a country where volleyball is a national sport – for young and old.
And the victory had a magical quality to it – often runners-up, Serbia were finally the title-winners. After finishing second five times (2003, 2005, both times as Serbia and Montenegro, 2008, 2009, 2015) they had won the biggest annual prize in men's volleyball. And in the final, they defeated World League record winners and favourites Brazil 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-21). The win earned Serbia the million dollar prize, but was also consolation for missing out on this year's Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“Congratulations to the Serbian team. They played really well, much better than us. They applied pressure and we made so many mistakes under this pressure,” explained Brazil's captain Bruno Rezende. His father, coach Bernardo Rezende praised Serbian coach Nikola Grbic: “Serbia deserve only compliments, their coach for the tactics that he chose.”
Grbic came under fire after failing to qualify his team for the Olympics. And the man who led Yugoslavia to gold at the 2000 Olympics as a player offered to resign from his position. That offer was declined, however, and Grbic has now led the team to one of its biggest successes ever.
"I honestly can't remember a team winning 3-0 against the Brazilians in the final of such a competition. I'm proud of this team. We are not preparing for the Olympic Games, so that's why we played like this and took the title from the other teams," said Grbic.
"I asked my team to come here to the final and play like we played. I knew that we needed to suffer a lot if we wanted to achieve it. I mean that every day we needed to practise very hard, much harder than we had the year before, or ever. So that’s why I am saying it was hard to be with me every day. We reached the point when we were in the gym in temperatures of 38 degrees. We managed to finish a session after 2.5 hours and I said to my players: 'You will remember this moment when we arrive in Poland'. I’m proud of the team, because they trusted me, had faith in me and followed me. I just want to say thanks."
The team were a tight-knit group in the final. Superstar Aleksandar Atanisejevic was unable to play in the Final Six, so his teammates pulled together and stepped up to the challenge.
Hosts world champions Poland were defeated 3-1 and after losing against last year's competition winners France (2-3), Italy were also beaten 3-2 in the semifinals. Then came one of the best performances in the team's history with a 3-0 win against Brazil in the final.
After that historic victory, Marko Ivovic, who scored a team-high 64 points at the Finals, was crowned MVP and Best Outside Spiker. Significantly, these were his first two major individual awards at a major international tournament.
"My individual awards are a success, but not only mine. I wouldn’t have achieved them without my teammates," said Ivovic of the accolade. "But they wouldn't mean so much without a gold medal. We have written a new chapter in the history of Serbian volleyball today."
Srecko Lisinac was chosen as the Best Middle Blocker: "It was a match of dreams and a historical gold medal. The key to victory was everything – our motivation, energy and will to win," he said.
The five other teams participating in the World League Finals will now prepare for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The Serbian team will be disappointed not to be competing for gold in Brazil, but their victory in Krakow is surely a sign of a still brighter future.
Quick Links: FIVB Volleyball World League 2016 Finals