Favourites get ready for women’s World Qualifier

With less than a month to the women’s World Olympic Qualifier Tournament (WOQT) for Rio 2016, the teams are being assembled, but the three main favourites have already presented their weapons.

Check out Italy, Netherlands and Japan rosters – the final list to the WOQT should have fourteen names. The WOQT will be held in Japan from May 14 to 22.

Eight teams will battle at the WOQT (check out the schedule here). The tournament also doubles as the qualification tournament for Asian teams. In each one, the best ranked Asian team plus the top three ranked teams will qualify for the Olympics. If an Asian is ranked among the top three, then the next ranked squad (fourth place) will get a berth. South Korea and Dominican Republic come after those three favourites as the squads with chances to book a ticket to Rio. The other teams are Thailand, Kazakhstan and Peru.

Team Italy

Three absences caused a surprise when Italy head coach, Marco Bonitta, called the players for the WOQT. None of the Bosetti sisters (Lucia and Caterina, both wing spikers) or middle blocker Valentina Arrighetti were included. After some bad performances at the European qualifier, earlier in January, setter Francesca Ferretti seemed to have annoyed Bonitta, who left her out. Versatile Argentinian naturalized Italian Carolina Costagrande, who plays both on the right or left side, apparently is out of the coach’s plans for the season.

Third placed at the European qualifier – Russia won the only berth available – Team Italy finishes this cycle at an inferior level if compared to the three previous ones. World Champion in 2002, winner of the World Cup in 2007 and 2011, the Italians arrived stronger in the last three Olympic Games, but in all of them the squad failed to advance from the quarterfinals.

This time, with a mix of young and veterans, Italy still have to confirm their presence and, once there, will be seen as underdogs, definitely a level below of Brazil, USA, Russia and China.

MVP of the Champions League, playing for the champion Pomi Casalmaggiore, wing spiker Francesca Piccinini, 37, tries to reach her fifth Olympics in five Italian appearances – she was in Sydney 2000, when Italy played for the first time on the women’s side, being eliminated in pool play. Going to Rio should not be a problem, but reaching the semifinals at the Olympics and finally breaking the “quarterfinal curse” is much more complicated, although not impossible.

Setters

Opposites

  • Nadia Centoni
  • Valentina Diouf
  • Serena Ortolani

Middle blockers

Wing spikers

Liberos

Team Netherlands

The Dutch squad has been present in the world scenario since the 1990s, but has failed to advance to the elite on the women’s side. In the European qualifier they reached the final, but Russia proved too strong for them. Netherlands has solid players in every position. However, they lack stability and should improve their block-defense ratio.

It is been twenty years since they participated in the Olympic Games. Their return to the Olympic stage does not seem a problem due to the level of the opponents at the WOQT. Once in Rio, it is unlikely they could go far than the quarterfinals, though.

Italian coach Giovanni Guidetti relies on some very talented athletes to make Netherlands surprise stronger contenders, in a roster that includes setter Laura Dijkema and opposite Lonneke Slöetjes.

It would be their third Olympic appearance, with a fifth place in Atlanta 1996 as their best rank.

Setters

Opposite

  • Lonneke Slöetjes
  • Judith Pietersen

Middle Blockers

Wing spikers

Liberos

Team Japan

The list released by coach Masayoshi Manabe had three absences that may have surprised the Japanese fans. The three missing names play for Hitsamitsu Springs, who recently won the Japanese league.

Wing spiker Risa Shinnabe, middle blocker Nana Iwasaka and the libero Kotoki Zayasu were not called-up by Manabe, while other two players from the same team appear on the list. Shinnabe was the best passer of the league, Iwasaka stood out in the middle and Zayasu was the first libero of the national team in 2015.

Japan’s main star, wing spiker Saori Kimura remains as their biggest weapon on the road to Rio.

Playing in front of their crowd, with a well-structured squad and solid defense, Japan should join Italians and Dutch, grabbing a berth to the Olympics.

A powerhouse until mid-eighties, with world and Olympics titles in the sixties and seventies, the Japanese saw their level drastically drop in the nineties, recovering in the late 2000s, but still away from the elite teams.

Four years ago, in London, they won a bronze medal, but the fact that Brazil eliminated Russia in the quarterfinal made things easier for the Japanese to get a medal. The bronze obtained two years earlier in the world championship could be attributed to the local factor plus an easy ride until the semifinals. More recently, Japan did nothing significant. At the 2014 World Championship they placed seventh, losing to weak squads such as Azerbaijan and Croatia, while last year at the World Cup, played in Japan, they finished fifth. Reaching the semis once again would be a major upset.

Setters

Opposites

  • Yukiko Ebata
  • Miyu Nagaoka
  • Saori Sakoda

Wing spikers

Middle blockers

Liberos

  • Arisa Sato
  • Aki Maruyama
  • Sayaka Tsutsui
  • Torigoe Miku
  • Mio Sato