Iran head coach Vladimir Alekno said the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) answered his questions about his team, though the Russian admitted he is not satisfied with the results in the recently-finished competition.
Alekno, who had only took charge of the Asian powerhouse in mid-April, led Iran to a below-par 12th spot in the 16-team VNL table in Italy in June.
“I found the answers to a lot of of my questions regarding the team’s level of fitness. The tournament was a tough challenge for us as we had to play 15 games in a tight schedule,” the Russian said in a press conference on Monday.
“The results were probably not what you and I were hoping for, but there were some positive points to our campaign as you saw a group of young players in the team who are the future of Iranian volleyball,” added Alekno.
Alekno said he had told the federation before leaving for Italy that the tournament would be “a test for Iran before the Tokyo Olympics” as his priority was to “put the younger players under the mental pressure of playing in big matches.”
“We could have won some of the games we lost – namely against Serbia – with a couple of changes during the match but my main objective was to assess my team before the Olympics. I have to remind you that Iran had not played a competitive match for nearly two years and 50 percent of the team consisted of youngsters who did not have the experience of playing at this level. I don’t believe in miracles, but we can be successful with hard work.”
Next for Iran is a second consecutive participation at the Olympics in less than a fortnight, where Alekno’s men are pitted against host Japan, Poland, Italy – the silver medalist in Rio 2016 – Canada, and Venezuela in Pool A.
Asked if his team will have a significant achievement in Tokyo, Alekno said, “I think, except for Italy and Poland who are relatively better than us, we are capable of competing with other teams in the group and hope for success against them. My game plan has always been to take one step at a time. I don’t make predictions as there are no guaranties in sport.”
“The volleyball facilities in Iran are as good as anywhere else in the world, but to win an Olympic medal, perhaps technical changes need to be made to the style of play in the domestic league,” insisted the Russian.
Alekno enjoys a glittering career in the Olympics, leading his country to the gold medal in 2012 in London, having won the bronze in Beijing 2008.