Thoughts on the Final from Serbia

July 26, 2009, 11:36 a.m. (ET)

The finals tonight here in Belgrade of the 2009 World League was really an epic match - one of the best I can remember for some time, with both teams playing well, a packed arena that set a local record (about 23,800), huge emotion for the home team and wonderful ebbs and flows to the rhythm of the performance. 

Brazil won in 5, 15-12 in the 5th after being down at the change over 8-5. The match also featured a very unusual decision by the Control Comm. (of which I have mentioned I was a member) - that led to a conference at the CC table and a reversal of a call that infuriated the crowd as it went against the home Serbs. Much of the night there had been several (maybe more) very questionable line calls that had gone Serbia's way, which ultimately led to the replacement of a linesman (all local Serb officials) - that in and of itself is very rare. The up ref had already overruled a couple poor line calls at this point and let a few go that were pretty clearly wrong (before going further I have to let everyone know that during the match I had the advantage of a TV monitor on the jury table that played many slow motion replays of key points which allowed me several repeat views of many plays).  Clearly the up ref had lost confidence in the crew of linesmen, which only made his job more difficult. 

At any rate, at 22-22 in the 4th set (not totally sure of the score, but think I am accurate) the great Serb opposite Miljkovic seemed to kill a right-side swing that was blocked just wide of the sideline, right under the up ref. It really appeared, however, that the blocked ball had hit the spiker's head on its way out of bounds, maybe even rolled down his back. Brazil protested loudly and emotionally and their coach was very animated (as is his style) - they were quite correct, the ball had very clearly hit the spiker, and not just brush him, but maybe rolled a ways in contact to the head and back. Anyway, the head of the CC called both refs over and told him to change the call; no replay, just change the call.  So, instead of 23-22 for Serbia, it was the opposite with BRA serving and they were up 2-1 and now 2 pts. away from the win. The crowd went crazy, throwing things, lots of Serbian coins and other very dangerous objects. 

Somehow we got the game going again pretty fast and Serbia sided out and then scored the next 2 pts. very easily to win the set - all on anger, and emotion. It was a bizarre, possibly dangerous and very tense moment; during an intense, emotionally charged event with lots of money and pride on the line. I know absolutely that the call was correct when reversed, I also know that there were 4-6 really bad (wrong) line calls before that play. 

The question, and I will leave the more exact description to Tom Blue - who will write about this match in his own blog soon - is to what extent does the authority of the CC extend over specific decisions that the refs and/linesmen make during the match. What's reversible, what is not, what should be and what can't be, etc. Certainly made for an exciting night!!!!  

BRA was very good, their young, big opposite was really spectacular - scored almost 30 pts., and SRB only stopped him a couple times all night. I see him as an upgrade for their team. SRB also was very good, although I thought it was much more difficult for SRB to get kills from anyone other than Miljkovic, while BRA was pretty balanced and offensively was quite a bit better. So BRA wins their 8th WL title, SRB still remains winless in this event and RUS was 3rd, beating CUB 3-0. 

The other interesting thing was in the selection if the top players - for the 1st time that I am aware, the MVP was a LIBERO; the really amazing Sergio from BRA - he really had a great tournament, and does so much to control the tempo of the BRA team, which remains very quick, very fast - and it was just very hard to single out any other player from this very balanced squad.  All the stats and other info on the event is on the FIVB web site. 

I'm very much looking forward to getting home and staying there for a while.  Our women's team left for the FIVB Grand Prix today.  The USA also won both men's and women's  titles at the FIVB Beach event just finished in France. Nice awarding ceremony that a surprising number of people remained to see here in Belgrade. Check out Zorzi's blog on the FIVB site. 

Take care,