Unlike basketball and handball, there are still plenty of quarterfinal places up for grabs on the final day of preliminary competition in the women's volleyball tournament at the 2012 London Olympics. Follow me after a jump for a look at where the competition stands after four group rounds.
Note: The FIVB awards teams 3 points for a win and none for a loss in most cases; however, if the match goes to five sets, the winning team earns just two points and the losing team picks up one.
Current Standings: 1. Russia, 2. Italy, 3. Japan, 4. Dominican Republic, 5. Great Britain, 6. Algeria
First place is straightforward, as it will be determined by the final game of the afternoon session at Earls Court between 2006 and 2010 World Champions Russia and 2011 World Cup Champion Italy (both on 12 points) (11:45 a.m. ET). The Dominican Republic (3 points) should finish in fourth, as they just need to defeat Algeria (1 point) (4:30 a.m. ET) in the first contest of the day to book their place. However, since the Algerians managed to force a fifth set in their loss to Great Britain (2 points), they can leapfrog the Dominicans with a victory in three or four sets. Of course, if the hosts stun Japan (6 points) (9:45 a.m.) in three or four sets (a highly unlikely proposition), they'll book a surprising quarterfinal place of their own.
Projected Standings; 1. Russia (14 pts.), 2. italy (13 pts.), 3. Japan (9 pts.), 4. Dominican Republic (6 pts.), 5. Great Britain (2 pts.), 6. Algeria (1 pt.)
Current Standings: 1. USA, 2. South Korea, 3. China, 4. Turkey, 5. Brazil, 6. Serbia
Things are more complicated in Group B, where only the gold medal co-favorites from the United States (12 points) have qualified as group winners. The Americans close with a game against Turkey (6 points) (3 p.m. ET) who is currently holding down the final quarterfinal spot in the group. The Turkish team's difficult matchup leaves the door wide open for fifth-place Brazil (4 points) who takes on already eliminated Serbia (0 points) (5 p.m. ET) in the Olympics' final preliminary game. The teams that meet at 6:30 a.m. ET, China and South Korea (7 points each), both look safe, unless Turkey stuns the Americans. In that improbable event, the loser between the two Asian sides would likely be on the outside looking in, depending on the number of sets involved in each match. The standings rules for five-set points really increased the number of permutations in this group.
Projected Standings: 1. USA (15 pts.), 2. South Korea (9 pts.), 3. China (8 pts.), 4. Brazil (7 pts.), 5. Turkey (6 pts.), 6. Serbia (0 pts.)
My projected bracket, therefore, looks like this.
(A1) Russia vs. (B4) Brazil
(B2) South Korea vs. (A3) Japan
(B1) USA vs. (A4) Dominican Republic
(A2) Italy vs. (B3) China
There are a couple of interesting local rivalries in this projection, though Japan-South Korea should be a lot more competitive than a possible USA-Dominican Republic game. Russia would face the defending Olympic champions to start the knock-out rounds, but the Brazilians don't seem to be as potent as they were four years ago. On the other side, the Americans biggest early challenge in their quest for a first-ever Olympic gold medal would come from an Italian team that finished ahead of them at the World Cup in Japan last year -- even though the Americans defeated them 3-1 when they actually played. A USA-Russia battle for gold certainly looks possible.
UPDATE: Group A played out as predicted, while China and South Korea flipped places in Group B, by a 3-2 Chinese win in the teams head to head. That means the bracket and schedule for Tuesday's quarterfinals at Earls Court looklike this.
(A1) Russia vs. (B4) Brazil, 10 a.m. ET
South Korea China vs. (A3) Japan, 8 a.m. ET (Top half semifinal will be Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET)
(B1) USA vs. (A4) Dominican Republic, 2 p.m. ET
(A2) Italy vs. (B3)
China South Korea, 4 p.m. ET (Bottom half semifinal will be Thursday at 10 a.m. ET)
On Saturday, the bronze medal game is slated to start at 6:30 a.m. ET with gold on the line at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Who are your picks for the medals?
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