When he told VolleyballMag.com repeatedly before the Rio Olympics that the USA’s first match against Canada was tougher than most people realized, John Speraw wasn’t spouting off a lot of “coach speak.”
Canada is good, eh?
Our friends from north of the border put a spanking on the USA men on Sunday, 25-23, 25-17, 25-23 and never once during that agonizing 1 hour, 17 minutes did it feel like the Americans were better.
And, according to the FIVB account, the USA had 28 unforced errors, compared to 16 by Canada. In the second set, the score was 15-15 before Canada went on a 10-2 run.
It leaves the USA in a precarious position, with matches left against Brazil, Italy, France, and Mexico, with only the latter a so-called gimme. In other words, the USA has its work cut out to get out of the pool and into the quarterfinals. Only four teams move on and the first-round losers are the USA, Mexico and France.
The men take Monday off, while the women are back at it.
The schedule starts off with two must-win matches, since China and Japan were both upset on Saturday:
— China vs. Italy
— Japan vs. Cameroon
— USA vs. Netherlands
— Serbia vs. Puerto Rico
— Russia vs. Korea
— Brazil vs. Argentina
Canada 3, USA 0
“I knew we were in for a battle,” Speraw said. “I didn’t think we’d come out and perform like that, particularly from the service line in the first set. Actually, going in, I felt like we were in a pretty good place mentally.”
Nicholas Hoag led Canada with 14 points, including two aces. Gavin Schmidt, who had monster kills to end the first and third sets, followed with 13 and John Gordon Perrin nine points.
“It’s a major win for us,” Perrin said. “If we want to move on, we have to win matches like this. It’s a good start for the tournament and I hope we can produce more wins.”
“Of course we are happy for this win,” Canada coach Glen Hoag said. “It has been a long summer for us of work, work and work. In the World League we faced some good teams. We just keep going trying to prepare well. USA didn’t play well today and we need to think on what is coming and learn from this.”
Matt Anderson was particularly effective out of the right side and had a match-high 15 points, with two blocks, while Aaron Russell added 12 points, all on kills.
Five out of the seven USA starters were in their first Olympics match, but those same players won the 2014 FIVB World League and the 2015 FIVB World Cup.
“These guys have proven themselves on the biggest stages,” the USA’s David Lee said. “You hope it’s just nerves. That’s very uncharacteristic of these young players to make some of the errors they did in some of the moments they did. I expect them to be extremely motivated in the matches to come.”
Each team had 36 kills, while the USA led in aces 4-2 and Canada led in blocks, 9-7.
Italy 3, France 0
Sunday’s first match got everyone’s attention as Italy overpowered the favored Frenchmen 25-20, 25-20, 25-15.
“I am very satisfied with the result, especially playing against such opponent,” Italy coach Gianlorenzo Blengini said. “It is only the first match in a very long, long and complicated tournament. We only can think about the next match against United States.”
Italy held an 11-3 blocking advantage and had 45 kills to France’s 30.
Italy’s Ivan Zaytsev led with 16 points.
“We played like how we planned it,” Zaytsev said. “We have set in our minds and our souls that we need to play well against France. I am really happy because this win makes me really feel confident about the next match. We have a great start in the Olympics and we look forward to the next match. We have to approach it step by step.”
Teammates Osmany Juantorena and Filippo Lanza had 12 and 11, respectively, in the win. Kevin Tillie, the former UC Irvine star who won an NCAA title with Speraw as his coach, and Earvin Ngapeth had eight points apiece for France.
“Italy played a great match and put a lot of pressure with their serves and blocks,” France coach Lauren Tillie said. “The stats are there and the result is logic. That’s all. Of course I expected a better result but as a coach you only want your team to play good and today we couldn’t.
Brazil 3, Mexico 1
The upset alert didn’t last long, but when Mexico took the first set, it got the volleyball world’s attention. But the locals bounced back, 23-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-18.
“Our serves were not effective in the first set and Mexico’s velocity caught us off guard and we were not able to make the adjustments,” Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende admitted.
“Our defensive systems didn’t function as consequence of the lack of good serves. Our intention was to play better but the service is an important weapon in today’s volleyball. Now our focus is on Canada which is a great team that can play with the best in the world.
Brazil was led by Ricardo Lucarelli, who had two blocks and four aces among his 17 points. Wallace de Souza led with 18 points, all via attacks, while Lucas Saatkamp had 13 points.
Mexico’s Daniel Vargas led his team with 15 points.
“We really enjoyed the match and go out with a good taste in our mouths after performing that well against a great team,” said Mexico’s Carlos Guerra, who scored 13 points. “We had a great motivation playing against a team of the quality of Brazil. To be honest, I think that for the people back in our country and those who travelled to Rio it was a good experience and I am sure that they feel happy. But we will go for more in this tournament.”
Poland 3, Egypt 0
Poland was way too much for a team no one expects to win a match, 25-18, 25-19, 25-17.
Bartosz Kurek and Michael Kubiak had 12 points each in a victory that took just 1 hour, 11 minutes. Teammate Mateusz Bieniek added 10 points, including one block and three aces.
“It’s a perfect first game. The first game is never easy for any tournament but for the Olympics it is always special. We played a very good game,” Polish coach Stephane Antiga said.
“During the first two sets, Egypt played and defended well, so we had to play seriously. In the third set, we dominated and it allowed me to make some changes wherein everybody could play. It’s really important because all my players will be useful. They might not spend too much time on the court but I want them to feel the Olympic atmosphere but also the Olympic pressure”
Mohamed Abou led Egypt with nine points, including two blocks and two aces, and Ahmed El Kotb added eight.
“The first two sets were not that bad, especially in the second set. We had a problem with reception in the last set and we had to solve this problem. We lost our concentration and we had problems with our reception, Egypt coach Sherif Elshemerly said.
And things will likely get worse before they get better.
“We just have to fight for the next match because we lost our best attacker No. 15 (Ahmed Elkotb because he injured his ankle,” Elshemerly said. “We have Ahmed Saleh (Abdelhay), but he is also not ready because he got injured. We only started training in the last four weeks.”
Russia 3, Cuba 1
The 2012 gold-medalists won 25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18.
Maxim Mikhaylov leading the scoring for Russia on 16 points and his team out-blocked Cuba 10-6. What’s more Cuba had 35 unforced errors to Russia’s 16.
“It was a very hard match for us because it’s our first match in this Olympic Games,” Mikhaylov said. “We were very nervous, but the most important thing is the victory.”
Cuba’s 19-year-old Osniel Rendon was top scorer of the game with 20 points.
Argentina 3, Iran 0
Facundo Conte scored 21 points, including five blocks and an ace and hit .650 as his team won 25-23, 26-24, 25-18.
Remaining men’s pool play
Russia vs. Argentina, 8:30 a.m.
France vs. Mexico, 10:35 a.m.
Italy vs. USA, 2 p.m.
Poland vs. Iran, 4:05 p.m.
Cuba vs. Egypt, 7:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. Canada, 9:35 p.m.
Iran vs. Cuba, 8:30 a.m.
Russia vs. Egypt, 10:35 a.m.
Poland vs. Argentina, 2 p.m.
Canada vs. France, 4:05 p.m.
Italy vs. Mexico, 7:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. USA, 9:35 p.m.
Iran vs. Egypt, 8:30 a.m.
Argentina vs. Cuba, 10:35 a.m.
Poland vs. Russia, 2 p.m.
USA vs. France, 4:05 p.m.
Canada vs. Mexico, 8:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. Italy, 10:35 p.m.
Argentina vs. Egypt, 9:30 a.m.
USA vs. Mexico, 10:35 a.m.
Russia vs. Iran, 1 p.m.
Poland vs. Cuba, 4:05 p.m.
Italy vs. Canada, 7:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. France, 9:35 p.m.