Monday, June 23, 2008

Finland: A very young team, but with big dreams...

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on June 9, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

Finland is currently ranked 22nd in the World by FIVB moving up from their previous ranking of 29th. Head Coach Mauro Berutto has big plans for the young team, “our target will be to make a wonderful experience, useful for our two next very important targets: European Championship finals (2009) and World Championship qualifications. We are a very young team, but with big dreams...”

The senior members of Team Finland are Mikko Esko (#3-Setter) and Olli Kunnari (#12-Outside Hitter) with 131 and 128 national team matches respectively. Esko plays for the Italian Serie A club team Antonveneta Padova. The Italian Serie A league has been long considered the top international league. Kunnari plays for AS Cannes in the French Pro A league. Middle Hitter recently watched Kunnari play in the 2008 French Cup semi-final match versus Beauvais in March (see photo). Matti Oivanen (#15-Middle Blocker), Konstantine Shumov (#14- Middle Blocker) and Anti Siltala (#5- Outside Hitter) have each had 50 or more national team matches since 2005. Team Finland has 4 players on their 19 man roster who are new to the national team and have no national team match playing experience.

The World League rules require each national team to submit a roster of 19 players who can be used throughout the competition. During the preliminary inquiry, which usually occurs the day before the first match of the weekend, each team must submit their 12 player roster that will be used for that weekend’s two matches. The coach is limited to those 12 players during the two matches for that weekend. The 12 player roster can be changed from weekend to weekend as long as the 12 are from the original 19 list.

Team Finland is 16 – 12 in match play since May of 2007 including a 4th place finish in the 2007 European Championships. Finland restarted its participation in World League in 2006 when FIVB expanded the number of teams from 12 to 16 (so did the US). Finland took 7th place in the World League on 2007 and 10th in 2006. USA is 9 – 2 versus Finland all time. The last time Finland and USA played was in 1984 when the US won 3-0. While the US has played in Finland 7 times in the past, this June (27th & 28th) will be the first time Finland has played in the US.The World League began in 1990 with an 8 team format and has since grown to 16 teams. The Intercontinental round takes place over six weekends. The teams are split in four - 4 team pools and each team will play two matches against the same team (from their pool) on separate days over the same weekend (Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday). There are three weekends at home and three away resulting in a total of 12 matches for each team during this round.

Coach Mauro Berutto is from Italy and was one of the assistant coaches during Italy’s 2004 Olympic silver medal performance. Coach Berutto was named the Team Sport Coach of the Year in Finland in 2007. Middle Hitter asked Coach Berutto how he thought the competition in this year’s World League Pool C would look. Here is what he had to say: “Our Pool will be really tough: Spain1, European Champion and fighting for Beijing, USA and Bulgaria, teams already qualified for the Olympics and with medal dreams. Difficult to define the toughest one, but I believe that the fight for the 1st place and for the tickets for the Brazilian final six will be decided with the last ball between USA and Bulgaria.”

Team USA will begin the World League with an away weekend against Finland. The matches will be held at LänsiAuto Arena in Espoo, Finland. LänsiAuto Arena, in Tapiola, opened in 1999 and holds 7,036 people. Its sponsor is Finland’s largest chain of fast food hamburger outlets and restaurants. Finland will play Team USA on June 27-28 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, WI.