Cambodia celebrates an unprecedented organisational triumph as the 2011 WOVD Standing Volleyball World Cup rolls on court at the indoor hall of Olympic Stadium tomorrow, with the unique distinction of hosting the biennial mega event three times in a row.
As a mark of the Kingdom’s esteem as a nation of compassion towards the disabled, this highly acclaimed tournament has been given full backing by Prime Minister Hun Sen. At 10am tomorrow, First Lady Bun Rany will officially open the championship in the presence of WOVD President Dr Hossam Eldin Mostafa and Academy award-winning director of the movie The Killing Fields, Roland Joffe, who has been named as the Patron of Honour by the local organising committee (LOC).
“It is a great occasion for disabled sports and it is a great day for Cambodian standing volleyball. We will do whatever it takes to make this the most memorable event ever,” LOC Director Christopher Minko told The Post yesterday.
Once the razzle dazzle of the colourful opening ceremony makes way for the real competition, the court will be transformed into a fierce battleground. There are just six teams in the fray here - holders Germany, two-time champions Slovakia, 2007 bronze medalists Cambodia, fancied outsiders Kazakhstan, relative newcomers Sri Lanka and World Cup debutants Laos.
On their imposing track record - four Paralympic Gold medals, three World Cups and five European Championships - Germany stand out as the giants of the game. Coach Athanasios Papageorgiou enjoys a legendary status in the world of standing volleyball, and the affectionately nicknamed “Papa” is again holding all the aces.
The team was hit by a health scare involving main setter Torben Schiewe on Monday, prompting the coach to make some changes to the formation.
“We had to change our system a bit, but we can cope with it,” Papa told The Post yesterday.
While it is common knowledge that a team as strong as Germany takes a lot of beating, their coach remains mindful of the threat the hosts pose this time around. “Cambodia is our main threat. No doubt about it,” he said.
The Cambodian team has been going through rigorous workouts for the past month and the team is oozing confidence that it is their rightful turn to win the coveted cup for the first time.
“This is the strongest Cambodian team we have ever fielded. I rate our chances of winning as very high,” said head coach Hang Chhaya.
The team’s fitness coach Willie Guillory, meanwhile, confirmed that the entire squad was in good shape to launch a concerted effort at the title. “We are ready for it,” he said.
Slovakia, a side that promises to cause a flutter or two, are traveling to Phnom Penh with an overriding motto - Stand Up. Three volleyball generations are represented in their team, which boasts an average player age of 28 years and six months and an average height of 187 centimetres.
Under the astute leadership of Helena Hanokova, who has been part and parcel of the Slovakian standing volleyball for the past 18 years, the team has steadily developed into a cohesive unit.
Silver medalists at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996 and winners of the 2001 and 2003 WOVD World Cups, Slovakia still find two members of that era, Josef Mihalco and Peter Moravcik, in their ranks.
As Hanakova put it before their departure to Phnom Penh: “Slovakia never stops dreaming. That is why we are taking part despite so many problems, financial being the main one.”
Kazakhstan could well be the event’s dark horses. When things are working their way they may well be a threat to anyone, but the form guides show the Kazakhs are yet to break into the big time.
With relative peace restored in a war-torn Sri Lanka, the side could make their presence felt here. The sport is extremely popular at home and that popularity has bred players of quality. Experts believe that it is only a matter of time before Sri Lanka can turn into a team to be reckoned with.
For Laos, their inaugural appearance at the World Cup could well mean a baptism of fire. The team is just coming into its own as the newest member of the community, and will hopefully return home enriched by the experience of playing some of the best in business.
Weekend Match Schedule
Saturday July 23
- Cambodia v Laos – 10am
- Germany v Kazakhstan - 2:30pm
- Slovakia v Sri Lanka – 6pm
Sunday July 24
- Kazakhstan v Laos – 10am
- Germany v Slovakia – 2:30pm
- Sri Lanka v Cambodia – 6pm