World No. 1 Brazil lead seven other teams at the final round of the 2011 FIVB World Grand Prix in Macau, China which begins on Wednesday.
Brazil topped the overall standings with an astounding sweep of their preliminary round matches. They will be on the hunt for their ninth title – establishing its status as the most successful team in the FIVB World Grand Prix with eight titles and 12 Top three podium finishes.
The five-day final round promises intense action from start to finish as eight teams vie for top spot in a round robin system pool play on August 24-26. The new finals format, with eight teams compared to the six teams in previous years, will allow spectators to enjoy more matches and the teams to have a bigger chance of getting the coveted FIVB World Grand Prix trophy.
Final round hosts China will be joined by Russia, Serbia, Thailand in Pool A while Brazil, USA, Italy, Japan will compete in Pool B. Top two teams from each pool will advance to the semifinals on August 27 before the final on August 28.
In Pool A, China’s young players Hui Ruoqi and Yang Junjing have shown great potential steering their team to a successful sweep of Pool I in the preliminary round in Hong Kong. The Russian side banners a towering lineup led by Ekaterina Gamova and Nataliya Goncharova who produced the best combined scoring output in the lead up to the final round.
Serbia’s successful stint at the final round in their first year in the FIVB World Grand Prix is a positive indication of the challenge they will be bringing to the other teams and also a showcase of the scoring depth of its ace players Sanja Malagurski, Milena Resic and Jovana Brakocevic. Nootsara Tomkom’s leadership and her well-distributed sets will be valuable to Thailand’s first final round appearance.
In Pool B, USA will count on seasoned players such as Logan Tom and Lindsey Berg to team up with 2010 World Grand Prix Most Valuable Player Foluke Akinradewo and top scorer Destinee Hooker to equal their first place finish last year. Brazil will take the challenge and rely on the support of its deep bench and its heavy hitters Sheilla Castro and Marianne Steinbrecher.
Italy will have to find its strongest combination of players to reinforce its performance in the final round and provide the much-needed support for playmaker Eleonora Lo Bianco and outstanding middle hitter Simona Gioli in running the Italian offense. Japan will then have to count on excellent defense by Erika Araki and quick offensive plays by Saori Kimura.
As regular hosts of the preliminary rounds of the FIVB World Grand Pix since 1994, Macau adds another milestone to their sporting event history as they host the final round for the second time at the Macau East Asian Games Dome in Cotai. Macau hosted its first final round of the FIVB World Grand Prix in 2001 at the Macau Forum.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS