Five teams qualified this past week as the Road to Tokyo continues. This last five teams had to go through each of their continental qualifiers to claim their ticket to the Olympics. For those who missed it, Venezuela, Canada, Iran, France, and Tunisia were the last countries to join the elite in the battle for gold that lies ahead this summer. Some surprised us all, while others just took care of business. Here in The SpikeNet we dove in and looked at the good, the bad and the ugly within these Olympic qualifiers.
Down in Vancouver, we all thought the team who would qualify at the NORCECA qualifier was Cuba. The addition of Robertlandy Simon seemed to give a young Cuban squad the serenity and leadership it needed. After two sets of the match versus the host Canada, it seemed like the predictions weren’t wrong. Cuba took off and started the match leading 2 sets to none. The host looked shocked but with the entry of Nicholas Hoag into the game and a fierce crowd behind them they completed the comeback as Canada took the match 3–2. Hoag finished the match with 11 points. They moved onto taking care of Puerto Rico in a 3–0 sweep, securing their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Another good we wish to highlight is France’s performance at the CEV European Qualifier. After Stephen Boyer expressed his discomfort about sharing the court with Earvin Ngapeth, he withdrew his name from France’s roster. Uncertainty rose as Boyer played a major part in France’s game in past competitions. No one really counted on France making a big push or securing a spot but they did. Ngapeth rose to the occasion and balled out, while Jean Patry solidified himself as an option over Stephen Boyer. Both were important elements to their success in the qualifier. Ngapeth had come from playing what many considered being his worst volleyball at Zenit Kazan, while also running into various legal problems before the tournament. His ability to put all of that aside and play the way he did shows a certain level of maturity in him.
Some players were playing for more than just winning. Some players knew their international careers and aspirations were close to an end and were expecting to end it with an Olympic ticket. Two of them have evolved into what we consider legends of the game and sadly felt short of the qualification they most desired. Those players were György Grozer and Robertlandy Simon. Grozer battled through injury and was the top scorer of the CEV qualifier finals, yet fell short of taking that Olympic berth from France. Simon came with the desire to make some noise in his return to the Cuban national team. He rekindled some old flames and helped the team get better along the year. Coming into the tournament, he seemed to be confident of his team’s status as favorites and could feel his dream of going to the Olympics coming true. He scored 9 pts against Canada in a lost caused as they blew a 2–0 lead and Stephen Maar proved to be too much to handle with 21 pts. Although unknown if they will continue to aspire for an Olympic berth on the next cycle, with Grozer at 35 and Simon at 32 years of age this could very much be their last try. The only thing certain is that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will miss out on two great talents.
When people talked about favorites in these continental qualifiers, Serbia came up in almost every conversation. After winning the EuroVolley 2019 championship and stopping Slovenia’s dream run, everybody thought they would at least reach the finals at the CEV Tokyo Qualifier. Instead, they first got swept by France. Then they lost to Bulgaria in a five set thriller, getting left out of the playoff stage. This has to be the most disappointing part of the Olympic qualifiers. This was a team who had a lot to look forward to but ended up thinking of what it could have been like instead.
The only question that remains unanswered is… What team will fill in for Russia if any at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games? What team do you wish to see?
#TheSpikeNet #GrowTheGame #Road2Tokyo