2017 WORLD GRAND CHAMPIONS CUP – Women’s
The 2017 World Grand Champions Cup begins tomorrow in Tokyo, Japan with six teams playing a round robin style tournament for the top prize. The tournament runs every four years, with Japan hosting it continuously since its inauguration in 1993. The event will take place in two different locations – Nagoya Nippongaishi Hall and Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. In the 2013 edition of the event, Brazil took the top prize over Team USA, with Japan coming in third.
This year, Japan, China, Russia, Team USA, Brazil and Korea will compete in the tournament. Japan is the host, earning the automatic bid, while China, Russia, Team USA and Brazil earning their spots by being the top ranked team in their confederation following the 2016 Olympic Games. Korea was the final choice into the tournament, a wild card determined by the FIVB.
Today, we give the readers our power rankings for the six teams that will battle it out for gold!
#6 – Korea
Of all the seven Grand Champions Cup held, Korea received wild card entries by FIVB in five of them. Its best ever finish was a fifth place in 2009. For this year’s tournament, coach Hong Sunjin showed that he really did’t care for his team’s poor historical bad performances in it, as he choose to rest his stars for the 2018 Asian Volleyball Confederation’s World Cup Qualifiers due to be help at the end of September. Instead, he will rely on what amounts to be a second or third string Korean team. This is a priority for him, as Korea is going through a very busy Asian volleyball schedule.
Kim Yeon-koung, one of the best players in the world and 2012 Olympic Game’s MVP, Heejim Kim, Jeongah Park, Hyo Jin Yang, and Sola Lee won’t be in uniform. They are by far Korea’s brightest stars. Thus, why did FIVB gift Korea with a wildcard, pretty much knowing they would go to the competition with a non-competitive team? This kind of politics only hurts the sport. They should have given the wild card to a team that would have make the tournament more interesting instead, such as 2016 Olympic Games’ silver medalists Serbia. Expect Korea to lose all five of its games 3×0.
#5 – Japan
Hosts Japan is pretty much in the same boat as their Asian neighbors Korea. Gifted a spot on the tournament solely due to its host status, they obviously can’t compete with the sport’s elite teams. Add to that the fact that coach Kumi Nakada lost Japan’s main players, Miyu Nagaoka and Sarina Koga, to injury, and you’ll see that the team won’t go anywhere, although we do expect it to beat Korea, gifting the home crowd with a win.
#4 – Brazil
The defending champions will encounter a rough road in Japan. Most of its most important players like Fernanda Garay, Dani Lins, Fabiana Claudino, and Thaisa Daher won’t be in uniform, as Natalia Pereira will be the squad’s sole star. As a matter of fact, Brazil has right now 15 active Olympic champions playing in its domestic league who are not servicing the national team for various reasons. Also, fans should’t be caught up in Brazil’s 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix win, as most squads participating in it were not at full strength. Even so, the stars had to align for Brazil to take home the title.
Brazil’s roster is just too young and inexperienced, specially at the setter and middle blocker spots, to battle it out against the tournament’s favorite teams. They are total underdogs.
#3 – Russia
Russia will have in its squad five veteran players: Natalya Goncharova, Tatiana Kosheleva, Yana Shcherban, Ekaterian Kosianenko, and Kryuchkova. Meanwhile, veteran setter and former team captain Evgeniya Startseva is taking some time off from the national team.
Although the presence of an experienced team probably will be enough to put them over Brazil’s youngsters, experience alone won’t be enough for them to go head to head with China and Team USA. Russia currently lacks firepower, in the likes of recently retired Ekaterina Gamova, to be the powerhouse they once were. The key factor and any hope for success for the Russian team rests in whether Kosheleva’s passing game will allow Russian setters to play up to their full potential. It has not always been the case.
#2 – USA
Team USA is going to come out swinging. Its roster will feature a strong presence of players that have seen playing time at the FIVB World Grand Prix, as well as players that took the summer off to rest. Making their way back into the lineup for Team USA are the BIG 4: Rachael Adams, Foluke Akinradewo, Kim Hill and Jordan Larson. These four players made their debut for the national team in 2017 at the USA Volleyball Cup last week. All four players also helped contribute to Team USA’s bronze medal finish at the Rio Olympics.
Larson is one of the best receivers in the world. If she plays to her usual standards, it will allow setter Carli Loyd to distribute Team USA’s offensive game through Adams and Akinradewo at the middle, where they are almost unstoppable. Also, Megan Courtney impressed head coach Karch Kiraly with her passing game in the last few games. This has recently sparked her move to the libero position for Team USA at the USA Volleyball Cup, which can also be a deciding factor in the team’s performance.
#1 – China
The Chinese squad is not the same as the one which won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, specially after Wei Qiuyue’s retirement. Regardless, though, the Chinese team is still volleyball’s premier squad and will be bringing its big guns to the tournament. Ting Zhu is probably the best player in the world right now. The Rio Games’ MVP is going through some injury troubles in her right wrist, but will suck it up and make an early return to the courts. Who is also poised to an early return is Olympic Champion coach Lang Ping, who has recently undergone a hip surgery. Her substitute in the meantime, An Jiajie, didn’t captivate the fans at all, specially after the poor showing at FIVB’s Grand Prix.
The team will also have Chunlei Zeng and Ni Yan back in uniform. Yunli Xu, who suffered a knee injury recently, and Ruoqui Hui, who was cut from the team due to an unspecified heart conditiont, won’t be able to make it to Japan. Regardless of their important absences, expect the current Olympic champions to have enough power to avenge its mediocre performance at home in the 2017 FIVB Grand Prix with a Grand Champions Cup title!