Montreux, Switzerland, September 5, 2018 - As Volleyball fans both on the Swiss Riviera and across the world catch their breath and digest all the action and drama from an entertaining opening day at the 33rd Montreux Masters, they have little time to recompose themselves as the second round of games in Pools A and B get underway.
Russia, unfortunate to bow to defending champions Brazil on Tuesday, look to bounce back at the first time of asking in a historic Pool B tie with Cameroon in Wednesday’s opening game (16:30 CET), the Indomitable Lionesses preparing to become the first African team to grace the court at Salle Omnisports du Pierrier in this competition. China are second in line in Pool A (18:45 CET) as they look to rubber-stamp their place in the semi-finals with victory over Italy, before Brazil close the day’s proceedings in the evening game in Pool B (21:15 CET) in a showdown with Poland.
But what drama do we have to look forward to in these games as two teams could seal a place in the last four whilst another duo of teams could be heading home early?
China & Brazil one step closer to the semi-finals: will they book their place today?
After hitting the ground running with key opening victories, two of the top four seeds in the FIVB World Rankings, China & Brazil, will look to have a semi-final berth almost guaranteed by Wednesday evening. After an impressive opening performance, China are the heavy favourites against an Italy team that looked out of sorts in their humbling by Turkey on the opening day. With national team regulars Gong Xiangyu and captain Liu Xiaotong looking as sharp as ever, and the youthful talent of Hu Mingyuan, Gao Yi, and Liu Yanhan to add to the formula, An Jiajie’s side are expected to entertain once more, but could play out an intriguing contest against Mazzanti’s Italy who will be keen to improve on their performance on the opening day.
Meanwhile, Brazil are fresh from playing out the game of the opening day after it took four sets for them to see off a stubborn Russia, and they will have to adapt their approach to combat a distinct youthfulness and presence at the net once again given the imposing nature of their Polish opponents, who are capable of causing similar problems to those they encountered against Russia. A win will see Brazil on the cusp of the last-four, whilst Poland will to take a notable scalp in their opening game.
2. World Class Attack vs World Class Defence: Can Egonu hurt China?
If Italy are to keep their hopes of a podium place alive and take anything from their game with the Chinese, they will need their main attacking outlet, Opposite Paola Ogechi Egonu, to be at her best. At the tender age of 19 she has already made a stunning breakthrough in the Squadra Azzurra having been elected the best attacking player in her position in the European Olympic Qualifiers, before finishing second in the scoring charts of this year’s FIVB Grand Prix during Italy’s run to the final. She finished as the game’s highest scorer in Italy’s loss to Turkey yesterday with 14 points, and although her teammates will need to raise their level to match hers against China, Egonu will simply have to perform if the Italians are to cause any problems.
Egonu will, however, face one of the toughest tests of her fledgling career. China’s youthful Middle Blocking trio of Hu Mingyuan, Gao Yi, and Yang Hanyu are a vital part of the Asian outfit’s iron-curtain defensive set-up, and it will be largely up to Egonu with her spiking power, creativity and movement to carve a way through such an impregnable defence. The clash between the unstoppable attacking force and the unmovable object defensively will make this contest an entertaining prospect for any Volleyball fan following the action.
3. Have Brazil learnt their lessons from the opening game?
Despite coming out on top in their clash with Russia, José Roberto Guimaraes’ Brazil were forced to overcome a new problem: the energy and intensity of youth, and physical presence at the net. Adapting their game with triple block tactics (three players going up for the block as one unit), and moving the ball with more speed and fluidity in attack to catch the reception off-guard, they were able to wear down the Sbornaya to come away with the points. The victory was owed largely not only to the individual performances of star Wing Spikers Gabi and Rosamaria Montibeller, but their organisation as a team, buoyed by the leadership and experience of veteran Middle Blocker Thaisa Menezes.
This organisation and capacity to counter a youthful attacking presence will be critical if they are to emerge victorious against Poland. Physically imposing players such as Opposite Malwina Smarzek and Middle Blocker Agnieszka Kakolewska are more than capable of ruffling Brazilian feathers, and it will be intriguing to gauge as to whether the South Americans will be prepared for such opposition after their opening tie. Equally fascinating to watch for any fan will be as to whether Poland, if they can start well, can maintain that intensity, but discipline is sure to be critical again as the Poles can ill-afford to gift as many points to the champions as Russia did if they are to stay in the game.
4. How will Cameroon fare on their big debut?
Wednesday September 5 will be a landmark day in the history of the Montreux Volley Masters as Jean Rene Bekono’s continental champions Cameroon become the first African nation to compete at the prestigious invitational competition. Something of an unknown quantity amongst Volleyball’s elite, and having qualified for the upcoming World Championships also, the eyes of fans of the sport from around the world and indeed back in Africa are sure to be fixed on this match as the Indomitable Lionesses test themselves against some of the best in the Women’s game. Their most experienced player in a relatively young side is 29-year-old captain Christelle Tchoudjang Nana, with 22 international caps, and she will have to be at her best and lead by example if Cameroon are to make a big impression on the Swiss Riviera and secure a dream debut win against a dangerous Russian side.
5. Can Russia iron out the creases to bounce back on Day 2?
Vadim Pankov’s young Russian side undoubtedly have an arsenal of young attacking talent. Wing Spikers Irina Voronkova (22) and Ksenia Parubets (23) carry a large part of their threat, alongside the more experienced 29-year-old Opposite Nataliya Goncharova. However, it was their inexperience which proved costly against Brazil with a string of individual errors at key periods.
Pankov will undoubtedly be determined to ensure that his team eliminate these mistakes from their game as they test themselves against an unfamiliar opponent in the shape of Cameroon, and whether they can do that will go far in determining their fate. For them this game is do or die. Win and their hopes of a semi-final place and a podium finish remain alive, whereas defeat will almost certainly condemn them to the classification ties.