They spent 80 days together and in between thousands of obstacles. In May they played the League of Nations and could only start with nine players out of 18 because three had been infected with coronavirus and the remaining six were considered close contact. They survived the “group of death” in Tokyo and they were classified to quarterfinals in a heads up against a power like United States. In the group stage they had already beaten France, a team with which they later lost in the semifinals.
To get among the four best in the world the rival was Italy, silver medal in Rio 2016, which Argentina managed to beat 3-2 by turning a tie break that seemed impossible. That was the first big jump that volleyball made in Tokyo 2020 after 21 years, when they had also defeated Brazil in Sydney 2000.
The record is striking in the South American superclassic at the Olympics. Verdeamarela is the great power of volleyball, so much so that Argentina could never beat her in South America or World Cups. But at the highest sporting event it is different. With the meeting of This Saturday is the fourth time that the national team has beaten the Brazilians in nine matches.
The match with France In the semifinals he had generated a lot of expectation to reach an Olympic final that would be unprecedented for this sport. But the illusion was quickly diluted by a 3-0 in favor of the Gauls who played the best match of the tournament and did not give the Marcelo Méndez team a chance to play their game.
You had to recover in 48 hours for the great duel with Brazil, who had been in the last four Olympic finals between Athens 2004 and Rio 2016 of which he won two.
The day of truth arrived. Argentina kept the first set thanks to excellent blocking and defense performance with Facundo Count as a figure with nine points in that end. The second and the third set they escaped the national team that its performance lowered and he had many serve errors. With Brazil 2-1 up, it seemed that the end would be the most logical, But this team once again demonstrated the same as throughout the tournament: self-confidence and overcoming adversity. Because yes, the level of play could be excellent as it was in many moments throughout this process, but en Tokyo 2020 lhe Volleyball team showed a maturity that had never been seen before.
“The team showed an incredible change of attitude in this tournament,” said Bruno Lima, Argentine top scorer in the tournament with 138 points. In the fourth set everything changed. Argentina recovered its game and eliminated the triple Olympic champion from the field to reach the tie break 25-17. The fifth was the moment of maximum tension. Those led by Méndez came to be 8-4 up, but Brazil tied it at 12. One rotation per side and the last two points of the two figures of the match: an attack by Conte and to close a blockade by Agustín Loser, who was the second scorer of the match, they gave the historic triumph to this Selection that deserved the medal that it would give to eternal glory. Conte, son of Hugo who was a medalist in 1988, confessed: “There is no analysis that can be done, this is simply glory.”
Déjà vu: 33 years after the first
Seoul, October 2, 1988, Argentina won bronze by defeating Brazil 3-2 in Korean lands, when volleyball was still played with a change of service. Hugo Conte, the great banner of this team, together with figures such as Waldo Kantor, Raúl Quiroga and Esteban Martínez achieved the first medal for a team sport after 52 years of polo in Berlin ’36. Twelve years later, in Sydney 2000 the National Team beat Brazil 3-1 but then lost to Russia in the semifinals and to Italy for the bronze medal.
Since that time until today, Argentina It was a machine to hit a hit per tournament but I could never leap past the top eight in the world. The level of play was often excellent, but it could not be maintained beyond one game. Why was it different in Tokyo? The Asian air did it again. From the beginning they began to look for similarities with him, until this Saturday, the only achievement of volleyball in the highest sporting event, but everything has an explanation.
The figure: the team
Argentina came here after working for many years. In 2009, the grassroots teams reached the number 1 ranking of the FIVB for the bronze medal obtained in both world championships. The twelve players on the squad that competed in Tokyo were part of a selection process minors, juveniles before reaching adults.
Marcelo Mendéz’s team became a complete team, in which none stood out over the other, because they all did. It is incredible that with the players who were in Tokyo, Argentina had the top scorer of the tournament. Lima was the perfect complement to Luciano De Cecco, the best point guard in the world, who day by day surpassed himself in his distribution and displayed his magic. Sebastian Solé, who said that it may have been his last game in the National Team, is another of the front-line players, years in the NBA of volleyball (Italy) make his presence fundamental. And what about Facundo Conte who played the best tournament of his life in the Argentine National Team.
Ezequiel Palacios and Agustín Loser They were at an excellent level and were also key in some matches of the tournament. The revelation was undoubtedly Santiago Danani, the libero, the one who is least seen, but most needed. So that Argentina and De Cecco can deploy their game, the first thing is the reception and during the game, the defense. The performance of this 25-year-old player was brilliant, had the difficult task of replacing the historic Alexis González And he did it as if he had ten years of Olympic experience. From the substitute bench, the owner Matías Sánchez, Martín Ramos and Cristian Poglajen They entered at different times and delivered perfectly.
How to capitalize on this achievement?
From Athens 2004 to Rio 2016, with the exception of Beijing 2008, the Argentine team always finished in fifth place. Players of different levels passed by, coaches of different styles, leaderships of all kinds, but the result was always the same, always on the verge of being in the elite. Meanwhile, you just had to settle for hitting like in Rio 2016 against Russia or like in the 2018 World Cup against Poland.
In a country where volleyball is decimated, in which players can only develop outside, This historic achievement should serve to put this sport as a priority, to find a way for the Argentine League to regain value and the diffusion that it knew then.
Why This bronze is not worth that, it is not even worth gold, it is worth the possibility that Argentine volleyball has a new chance to grow, but with the collaboration of everyone, players, leaders and also from the clubs who are the ones that make up these athletes who shone throughout the tournament against the greatest powers in the world.