New team, bigger challenge, says China volleyball coach ahead of Serbia clash
The mainlanders beat their European rivals for Olympic gold in Rio but they must start afresh in Hong Kong
China have only a handful of survivors from their 2016 Olympics gold medal-winning team, and most of them were on the bench in Rio. That’s why their coach is wary ahead of the clash against Serbia in the women’s volleyball world grand prix in Hong Kong – the first encounter between the two powerhouses after the Olympic final showdown last summer.
In Rio, the mainlanders overcame Serbia 3-1 in the thrilling match to lift their third Olympic title after successes in 1984 and 2004.
But acting Chinese head coach An Jiajie doesn’t expect an easy task against the European giants, who top the table heading into next week’s finals in Nanjing.
“We had some mixed results against Serbia before the Rio Olympics as they are always one of the tougher opponents,” said An, assistant to iconic coach Lang Ping but who is in temporary charge while she recovers from hip surgery in the United States.
“They kept most of their squad players from the Olympic Games and that’s why Serbia are doing so well in the grand prix while many other nations are in a transition phase and grooming new players for the Tokyo Olympics.”
An said China had retained only up to six players from their Rio Olympic squad and many of them were substitutes at the Games, except outside hitter Zhu Ting – the world’s highest-paid player who is also China captain.
“We have produced many good players from our league back home but they need international exposure before they can be featured in major competitions. This is our target in the world grand prix,” the coach said.
Zhu, who is earning HK$12 million a year with her club in Turkey, is delighted with the new arrivals, saying they are blending in well after the first two weeks of the tournament.
Serbia are leading the table with only one defeat after six games and should qualify for the finals. They are followed by the Netherlands, Italy, the United States and Japan. The top five teams after nine games in three weeks will join hosts China for the finals in Nanjing.
The two others teams in the Hong Kong leg are Japan and Russia, who are eighth in the table.
Serbia coach Zolan Terzic expects a difficult campaign because of the quality of the opposition.
“This is the first time we play the world grand prix in Hong Kong and all four teams are top-ranking teams,” he said. “We hope we can play better than the first two weeks in Turkey and Japan and make some improvement. This is definitely a very interesting competition and the most difficult competition for us.”
Japan coach Kumi Nakada said they could qualify for finals but their first match against China on Friday would be a major challenge, especially with the loss of former captain Saori Kimura after the Rio Olympics.
Russia will take on Serbia in another match in the opening day.