Bangkok hosts the grand finale of the 24th FIVB World Grand Prix at which five former winners and hosts Thailand will go head to head for the title from Wednesday to Sunday.
Record winners and Olympic champions Brazil (10 titles), defending World Grand Prix champions and world champions USA (6), Russia (3), the Netherlands (1) and China (1) all have their sights set on victory in the immediate build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio. The only previous winners missing from this illustrious field are three-time Olympic champions and two time World Grand Prix winners Cuba, who competed in Group 3 this year. Bangkok and volleyball fans around the world can look forward to a real feast of volleyball.
A glance at the recent history of the most important annual event in women’s volleyball points to two clear favourites. The USA and Brazil have dominated the top-flight of women’s volleyball since 2008. The USA celebrated a hat-trick of overall wins in the World Grand Prix between 2010 and 2012 and also won in 2015. Brazil triumphed in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014. Defending champions USA are also the team that topped the table at the end of the Preliminary Round – with eight wins from nine matches, the same total as China and Russia. USA underlined their title ambitions at the end of the Preliminary Round with a dominant 3-0 win against the previously unbeaten Chinese.
“We are obviously out to try and defend our World Grand Prix title. However, this will not be easy. After all, the top teams are assembled in Bangkok. This will be the perfect test ahead of Rio,” said USA coach Karch Kiraly. His team will again play the tournament’s potential dark horses China in the group stage of the Finals in Bangkok. USA captain Christa Harmotto Dietzen said: “We learn a lot every time we play against China. We look forward to the next game with them in Bangkok.”
China’s legendary coach “Jenny” Lang Ping sees her team in the familiar role of underdogs at the finals: “Our players are young and cannot handle challenges so easily due to lack of experience. Our objective in the World Grand Prix is to train and improve our players.” It is now 13 years since China won their only World Grand Prix title.
The Dutch ladies, returning to Group 1 this season, have already surpassed expectations in reaching the final round. The Netherlands open the final eleven matches of the FIVB World Grand Prix in Bangkok with a match against USA on Wednesday. Shortly before the final round, coach Giovanni Guidetti extended his contract through to 2020. “The potential of the Dutch team is very great,” said Guidetti, explaining the reasoning behind his contract extension. “What this team has shown over the past year is amazing, and I believe in the future of this group. Most players from the current team will not only perform well in Rio de Janeiro, but also have a great opportunity to shine in Tokyo 2020. But first we want to try to cause some surprises in Bangkok.”
In the other preliminary group in Bangkok, hosts Thailand meet volleyball giants Russia and Brazil. Russia have coped well with the shock retirements of legends Ekaterina Gamova and Ljoubov Sokolova. They will build their game around the attacks of Nataliya Goncharova, who was by far the top scorer in the Preliminary Round of the World Grand Prix with 185 points. The team attended a training camp in Kobe, Japan, to prepare for the Finals, where they will be out to claim their first FIVB World Grand Prix title for 14 years.
Record winners Brazil were preparing in Istanbul until last Friday. Successful coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes warns against complacency against their two preliminary-round opponents: “Thailand almost qualified for the Olympic Games and has a good pre-Olympic record. They have a dynamic game with a lot of speed and little missing. It is a team that will require a lot from our group, particularly in front of the passionate Thai fans. It will be a good test. Then we will face Russia, who have a completely different style of play. There are more high balls and great potential in attack and block. They will be two important games and we will hope to qualify for the semifinals.”
Hitter Jaqueline Carvalho believes that her team can once again challenge for the title: “It will be a difficult phase, but I strongly believe in our team and in our growth.”
Bangkok and Thailand’s Volleyball Association can look forward to hosting the final round of one of the biggest events in the sport for the first time in its history.
President Mr. Somporn Chaibangyang said: “All preparations are completed and we are looking forward to a great five-day showcase.” A showcase during which Thailand, whose best result so far in the World Grand Prix was a fourth place in 2012, will be out to push the favourites all the way.
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