The longest-serving national coach in the history of German sports, Athan-asios Papageorgiou – fondly nicknamed Papa by his leg-ion of admirers – strongly believes hosts Cambodia are the biggest threat to the world champions in the 2011 WOVD Standing Volleyball World Cup, which begins at the indoor hall of Olympic Stadium this Saturday.
“Cambodia has the best team in the world for the disabled [volleyball] – no one does it better,” the Germany coach, regarded as the godfather of standing volleyball, told The Post in an exclusive interview at the team’s hotel yesterday.
“They were beaten by a very thin margin last time. I hope the title clash is between Cambodia and Germany.”
The 65-year-old moved from his native Greece to Germany as a student and has been at the helm of German standing volleyball since 1983.
His 28-year record includes four Paralympic golds, three world championships, five European championships and back-to-back WOVD World Cups in 2007 and 2009.
“Unbelievable. It is such a long time,” Papageorgiou said as he reflected on his long association with German volleyball.
It was on an exotic island between Greece and Turkey that Papa got a surprise offer to coach the German disabled team from a former professor of his.
“When he said, ‘Can you do it?’ I immediately said yes, and I’m glad I haven’t looked back.”
Papageorgiou expressed his enthusiasm to be back once again in the Kingdom’s capital. “Yes indeed. Phnom Penh has been a happy hunting ground for me and my team. I have fond memories of 2009 and 2007. I hope we can complete a hat-trick.
“The composition of the current German team is more or less the same as the one that won two years ago, except that two players from that squad are missing here.
“As for the preparations, I’m happy. We’ve had three good weekends of training.
“I have a system in place for the national players. Each member of the team will have to play and train in his home town with one of the able-bodied teams. We have 13 different levels of league in Germany, and every player will fit in somewhere.
“So, before a major event, the players get together for a couple of weeks of training, and this system has worked well for us.”
The Germany coach revealed his opinion on the strengths of the other competing nations. “Slovakia are a good side. Kazakhstan is not too strong a side but not too weak either,” he said.
“Laos are relative newcomers, but I reckon Sri Lanka will perform well. I was in Sri Lanka as an instructor at one of FIBA’s [the world governing body of basketball] coaching schools and I saw a volleyball net practically in every village.
“There have been many war- related injuries there, and the game is quite popular.”
According to Papageorgiou, Germany’s key player is Robert Kampczyk.
“He is a left-handed spiker standing over two metres tall. We have specialists in other areas, but generally our players fit into any position on the court and that’s how I want them to be,” he said, adding that he was eager to get his players onto the show courts of Olympic Stadium for a training session this morning.
Setter Schiewe setback
Germany’s preparations for their World Cup title defence took a significant blow on Monday evening after main setter Torben Schiewe was rushed to a private clinic complaining of severe stomach pains.
According to team management, the player is responding to treatment and is in a stable condition. “It is a concern, but it’s not alarming. I do not know whether Torben will be in a position to join the team [for the tournament] or when.
“In case he is not available, we will have only eight players to choose from, but we will create another system,” coach Papageorgiou said.