Tokyo, Japan Brazil will start as strong favourites to defend their 2005 title but five other contenders – Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea and Thailand – will all fancy their chances when the FIVB 2009 Women’s World Grand Champions Cup begins on Tuesday in the impressive Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
No team has won the FIVB Women’s World Grand Champions Cup, which traditionally features continental champions, hosts Japan and a wild card entry (Korea in 2009), more than once but world number one Brazil has the form to change all that. The defending champions arrive in Japan in the midst of one of their most successful years in history. On the back of last year’s Olympic gold medal, Brazil has gone on to win six tournaments in 2009 including the FIVB World Grand Prix for the fifth time in six years and the South American Championship, which saw Brazil qualify for this quadrennial event.
Other strong contenders for the Women’s World Grand Champions Cup, which includes three days of competition in Tokyo from November 10-12 and two days (Nov 14-15) in Fukuoka and will be followed by the FIVB 2009 Men’s World Grand Champions Cup from November 18-23, includes world number five Italy. The European champions, who are making their first Women’s World Grand Champions Cup appearance, are the most likely candidates to challenge Brazil for the title especially considering their proven record of winning in Japan, having won the World Cup in 2007.
Meanwhile, hosts Japan, who are ranked seventh in the world, will be looking to improve significantly on their disappointing fifth-place finish four years ago. In all four editions, Japan’s best result has been third in 2001. Any improvement on that result will bring great satisfaction to coach Masayoshi Manabe, his players and the countless fans who will be following their every move.
Near-neighbours Korea have participated three times in the FIVB Women’s World Grand Champions Cup and each time finished sixth. After a disappointing World Grand prix, the world number 12 will be hoping for better things and although the chances of Korea winning an FIVB competition for the first time are slim, the Grand Champions Cup does at least offer a chance to finish the year on a high note.
Another team who is sure to entertain includes the “Queens of Volleyball,” as the Dominican Republic media have dubbed their national heroes, after they won the continental championship and qualified for the FIVB Women’s World Grand Champions Cup for the first time. The world number 14 will be hoping to add further glory to what has been a stellar year with Brazilian Marcos Kwiek at the helm
Meanwhile, Thailand, ranked 17 in the world, will also be looking to finish what has also been an incredible year in style, having become Asian champions for the first time in their 50-year history.
Agenda for Day One: Thailand v Italy (1pm), Dominican Republic v Brazil (3pm), Japan v Korea (7pm)
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS