Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament - News

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After a turbulent season with a happy ending, the Brazilian captain hopes to lead his team to success in 2024

Brazil men’s national team’s 2023 season had a little bit of everything. The South Americans went through a rollercoaster of emotions from May to October, but ended the year with their main goal accomplished and expectations that things will be better in 2024.

Their first challenge in the season, the Volleyball Nations League 2023 saw an inconsistent Brazilian team miss out on the podium for a second-straight year after ranking sixth in the Preliminary Phase and falling to eventual champions Poland in the quarterfinals.

The South American Championship looked like a perfect opportunity for redemption for the Brazilians, who had triumphed in all 33 editions they played, including the last 28. However, even playing at home, in Recife, they fell to Argentina and had to deal with one of the most shocking defeats in their history.

Confidence was obviously low for Brazil as they entered the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but playing for their main goal of the season at the iconic Maracanãzinho, in Rio de Janeiro, where they won the last of their three Olympic title seven years ago, they knew it was time to step up and deliver the result their fans wanted.

It was a tense week for the team, which struggled to beat Czechia in their second match and fell to Germany the next day, severely jeopardizing their chances of earning one of the two Olympic spots in play. Pushed by 21-year-old opposite Darlan de Souza, Brazil found their game and topped Italy, the same opponent they had faced in the Rio 2016 Games gold medal match, in the tie-breaker on the last day of the event to book their tickets to Paris.

The best moment of the season didn’t come without reason for concern, though, as, while still on the court during the Brazilian celebration, head coach Renan Dal Zotto announced his decision to step away from his position, leaving the team without a manager less than a year before the Games.

Already without Renan, Brazil went to win gold at the Pan-American Games with a young squad led by Darlan, ending a complicated season on a high.

It was a lot to unpack and, in order to better understand how 2023 played out for Brazil and what the plans are for 2024, Volleyball World caught up with team captain and setter Bruno Rezende.

Volleyball World: The 2023 season was a busy one for Brazil, with four tournaments in just over five months. What are your thoughts about the season that just ended?

Bruno Rezende: It was a year with a lot of ups and downs for our team, but, with a lot of effort, we managed to accomplish our main goal, which was qualifying for Paris 2024. I think we were way too inconsistent in the VNL before falling to Poland in the quarterfinals. The South American Championship was definitely the lowest point of the season as losing at home was really frustrating and a tough blow. After the Olympic Qualifier, we sent a young team to the Pan-American Games and it was great to see them not only win gold, but also acquire some experience. So I’d say that although it certainly wasn’t a perfect season, we accomplished our main goal, which was important.

VW: Brazil looked like an entirely different team during some matches of the Olympic Qualifier when compared to the previous tournaments. What do you think has made the team perform at a higher level in Rio?

Bruno: We as a team historically need to put on a lot of training hours before tournaments to be able to perform at our best level and I don’t think we had enough time to do it ahead of the VNL or the South American Championship. We had a few weeks to work before the Olympic Qualifier and we were a lot more solid and confident as a team on the court. And like always with Brazil, having a deep squad made the difference for us again as everyone played a role in our success in Rio.

VW: The big win against Italy that qualified Brazil to the Paris 2024 Olympics was seen by many as the biggest moment of the Brazilian men’s team over the last few years. How did you and your teammates feel at the end of that event?

Bruno: Qualifying in Rio was our best moment in the season and one of the best in the last two years, for sure. Every pool in the Olympic Qualifier had its surprises and, with us, it was Germany winning every match. We had our backs against the wall after we lost to them but we managed to get the results we needed with a lot of sacrifice and with every player contributing. We were coming from a tough moment with the defeat in the South American Championship and being able to react and reach our goal in front of our fans made us very happy and gave us a feeling of mission accomplished.

VW: What is the plan to make of Brazil’s campaign at the Olympic Qualifier sort of a turning point as you prepare to fight for another medal next year in Paris?

Bruno: The Olympic Qualifier showed how strong and resilient we are as a team. After losing to Germany, we knew we’d have to win every match and we went through a lot of difficult moments and several tie-breakers, where the pressure was crazy high. We know there’s incredible balance in international volleyball right now, but we’re a lot more confident in what we can do as a team after our victory in Rio and we know that if we manage to work hard and prepare well for the Olympics, we’ll get there ready to compete with anyone.

VW: Darlan played a big role in Brazil’s success at the Olympic Qualifier and looks ready to be a big part of the team going forward. What kind of role do you think he could have and how important is it to have a player that brings a lot of passion to the court as he does?

Bruno: Darlan had been with us in 2022 already and he played very well during the VNL that season. But what he did that week, it was incredible. He’s a very physical player and during training, we could see he was absolutely ready to help us. As with every young player, he still has a lot to improve, but his energy has been very important for us, we need players like him. He has for sure become another very important piece on the team.

VW: Brazil enter 2024 without a head coach as Renan left right after the Olympic Qualifier. A new coach hasn’t been appointed yet, but what you think is the best strategy to make this change have a positive impact on the team, instead of a negative one, in such an important season?

Bruno: I think that regardless of who the next coach is, this team has a very clear work philosophy, which was built several years ago and continues until now. We are a team that works very hard and that values every player in the squad. I’m sure that the next coach will embrace these values and the most important thing will be for us to be focused and determined to make the most of the time we have to prepare ahead of the VNL and the Olympics. I’m very confident we’ll be very strong in 2024.