For those of you new to these 2018 Men’s Nations League previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting tomorrow taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
Brazil at 5 is a hot take for the reigning Olympic champions and runners-up at last year’s world league. Don’t read too much into the number ranking, these top 5 are all in the same tier and represent the “true contenders” to win gold at the 2018 nations league. Regardless, let me walk you through my reasoning as to why I put Brazil at the bottom of this group.
The first, and the biggest reason is the loss of superstar outside Ricardo Lucarelli to a right-leg Achilles injury last November. Some of you may be wondering how an injury that happened 6 months ago is still keeping Lucarelli sidelined. Let me give you some background on how devastating an Achilles injury can be. While not as common in volleyball, it has claimed many victims in the NBA. Kobe Bryant had his career essentially ended by an Achilles tendon rupture in 2013. He tried to come back for another season after the injury but was a shadow of his former self. Other notable NBA players it has affected include Rudy Gay, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Jennings, and Elton Brand. SB Nation does a great breakdown of what players can expect after coming back from the injury. While Lucarelli is young enough that he will still have years left in his career, it is unlikely he reaches the athletic peak of the summers of 2016 and 2017. He will probably join the team for the world championships, but in the meantime, we get to see the return of Lipe (woohoo…).
The other reason why Brazil might not dominate like it has in the last few tournaments is age. While it might not affect them too severely this tournament, there is no fighting off the inevitability of declining athleticism. Bruno is 32, Wallace is 31, Lucas is 33, Lipe is 35, Eder is 35. One of these tournaments all the benefits gained from experience will be outweighed by slower reaction time and vertical, and it won’t be pretty. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if there were a bunch of hungry young players anxious to start, much like this group was at the start of the decade. The only players they are bringing to the first weekend who were born in the 90s are Douglas Souza and Leozinho. Knowing Brazil they probably have a bunch of youth players they are hiding from the world, but the dynamics of this roster make me nervous.
Of course, I still ranked them in the top 5 and wouldn’t be that surprised if this team won the whole tournament. Most players in the starting lineup have more medals and awards by themselves than entire countries, and with Lucarelli I would have them #1. But the window for this current team is slowly closing, and keeping it open until 2020 could prove to be tough.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Mauricio Borges (Rio)
OH: Felipe Fonteles (Sao Paulo)
OP: Wallace de Souza (Funvic/Taubate)
MB: Mauricio Souza (Rio)
MB: Lucas Saatkamp (Sao Paulo)
S: Bruno Rezende (Modena)
L: Thales Hoss (Funvic/Taubate)