A game far too wideAzad Majumder . London
As the USA took the second set in tie-break Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende put his both hands on the head. The game was still evenly-poised but he sensed the worst and at the end he was proved right.
Brazil lost their epic Pool B volleyball battle to the USA by 3-1 sets in what was a rematch of last Olympic final and the gallery, fully dominated by Brazilian supporters, fell silent for minutes.
It was hard for the Brazilian fans to swallow the defeat to their old foes, who thought they were not in their best form. US started the final on the wrong foot, losing the close first set, but have gone from strength to strength with every ‘serve’ from the second set onwards to provide Brazil another shocker after Beijing.
Fans screamed every time Brazil earned a point, waved the country’s green-yellow flag as passionately as they normally do during football matches. The festivity they brought during the game gave the volleyball venue Earls Court a look of Wembley Stadium.
In a game, in which hosts Great Britain have little interest, it was an incredible atmosphere. Britain, the birthplace of many other sports, had never been very enthusiastic about volleyball.
They took the game seriously only after London was selected as Olympics venue and played their first international match only in 2006. Still without a proper domestic volleyball structure, the Britons had no reason rush to the 1937-built music-and-exhibition-centre-turned-Olympic-venue in droves.
The largest part of the 15,000-seater venue was filled by international audience, which only underlined the worldwide popularity of volleyball. Brazil’s spiker Leandro Vissotto only confirmed it after the US game.
‘In our country, it is the second most popular game after football,’ said the 6ft 11in tall spiker. ‘We have our matches regularly shown on televisions and players also enjoy a celebrity status.’
In 2006, though Ronaldinho mesmerised Barcelona with his magical skill before flopping at the World Cup, Brazil’s current volleyball captain Giba was named the country’s Sports Man of the Year.
It only proved the game’s popularity in the country and they appeared in every Olympics since volleyball was introduced in the Tokyo Games in 1964 like they appear in every football World Cup. They won the tournament, however, only twice, which only suggested there were other contenders too.
In fact seven different countries from four different continents won Olympic gold medals in volleyball on the previous 12 occasions, a perfect example that the game has gained ground in every corner of the world.
In 1999, the Dutch television viewers chose their 1996 men’s volleyball final win against Italy as the top sporting moment of the century. For a country that reached World Cup football final three times and were crowned European football champions in 1988, it was a surprise choice.
Again, it was also not that much surprising. Volleyball was once very popular in the east European countries, especially in Bulgaria where there are 120 volleyball clubs and 5,500 registered players and in Serbia, the reigning European champions.
But thanks to Dutch win over Italy it gained popularity in western part of the continent as well. In Asia, Japan won both men’s and women’s volleyball gold medals in the past while China were also twice crowned women’s champions.
The game also has strong base in the USA, where immigrants from many European countries made it great volleyball hub. Players don’t get necessary exposure there as stated by star US player Donald Suxho, but they at least get the result.
‘We only get television coverage during the Olympics. But it is really very popular in our country,’ said Suxho, an immigrant from Albania, who played a key role in the US win over Brazil.
Three Olympic gold medals from the men’s events in the past and the prospect of a fourth one in London evidenced that Suxho is very much correct indeed.
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