Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 5, 2016 – Hosts and Olympic reigning champions Brazil begin their quest for a three-peat as the women’s volleyball tournament at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games gets underway on Saturday at the iconic Maracanazinho Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
The Brazilians, who triumphed at the FIVB World Grand Prix this year, are seeking to join Cuba as the teams to win three consecutive gold medals in the history of women’s volleyball in the Olympic Games. The Cubans achieved the feat in Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
Even though the home side is secured of receiving strong support from the crowd expected to pack the stands, the road to a potential third straight gold medal could be one full of high hurdles given the high level of quality represented by a group of top contenders that includes world champions and world’s top ranked United States.
“Our expectations are to play well and do our best and playing at home makes this Olympic tournament the most important,” said a cautious Brazilian coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes on Thursday.
Brazil’s first match on Saturday will be against African champions Cameroon at 14:00 (local time) in Pool A that includes 4th world-ranked Russia, Japan (5th), Korea (9th) and Argentina (12th).
The United States side finished second to Brazil in the last two editions of the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and arrives here full of ambitions to avenge those defeats.
The Americans, who lost in five sets to the Brazilians in the decisive match of the 2016 World Grand Prix, have never won a gold medal in the history of the competition and hope to emulate their coach Karch Kiraly, who won two gold medals in volleyball in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, and one in beach volleyball in Atlanta 1996 with Kent Steffes.
“Ours is a really strong group and every match is a challenge but we look forward to the challenge,” Kiraly said during the press conference with the coaches on Thursday.
They start their quest for the gold with a match against NORCECA rivals 17th world-ranked Puerto Rico at 16:05. Pool B also includes the sides of China (3rd), Serbia (6th), Italy (8th), and Netherlands (11th).
The first match of the tournament features an Asian early battle between Japan and Korea (8:30 local time), who battled for the bronze medal four years ago in London with the Japanese side getting the top hand. The two teams last faced each other at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan with Korea claiming the victory in four sets.
“The competition will be very tough this time around so we have to do our very best,” Japanese coach Masayoshi Manabe said.
Lee Young Chul of Korea commented: “We hope to come away with happy memories from these Olympic Games and do better than in London.”
Another strong Asian contender figures to be China, currently ranked third in the world and winners of the gold medal in Athens 2004 to snap the Cuban streak.
China was the first team to qualify to Rio 2016 as winners of the FIVB World Cup in Japan last year.
“We look forward to playing well in all our matches because we have to fight read hard in every single one of them in order to win,” said Lang Ping, the China coach who won a gold medal as a player in Los Angeles 1984.
The European package with big chances for the podium here, includes Serbia, who finished second to China at the World Cup and the Netherlands, who finished third at the World Grand Prix behind Brazil and USA, as well as the fourth world-ranked Russia.