The Brazilian men’s sitting volleyball team shocked the world in 2014.
In one of the most surprising results ever in the sport, the Rio 2016 hosts defeated multi-Paralympic and world champions Iran 3-2 in the semi-finals of the World Championships in Elblag, Poland.
Brazil went on to lose 3-1 to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the final. But the silver was much-celebrated as it was their first medal at a Worlds, as well as the first time in 25 years that Iran failed to reach the final.
Four years later, Brazilian player Renato Leite admits it will be hard to produce such an upset again at the Worlds, which begin in exactly a week’s time in the Netherlands. However, he remains positive about his team’s chances of fighting for a medal.
“We are very inspired by the Brazilian blind football and goalball teams who became world champions earlier this year, but also know that the favourites to win the title are Iran,” he said.
“I believe they are one step ahead of the rest of the teams. But as I say, this is a game and in the knock-out stage chances are 50 per cent per side. I always go into the field to win because I was born to be a champion.”
World No.2 Brazil was drawn into Pool C with Asian champions Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Croatia. “We head the group and we have tough rivals,” said Leite.
“In the debut against Croatia we need to remain focused; same as in the game vs. Ukraine. The easiest rival will be Kazakhstan. I believe we will qualify in first place.”
Brazil aims to secure a ticket for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which is only reserved for the world champions. “I feel we are well-prepared and have experience. We will fight until the end,” he said.
Leite, who was elected the best libero at Elblag 2014, highlights the Brazilian team is “strong in defense.” However, they need to be “even more prepared and better organised in every sense.
“Our goal is to reach the big final.”
The 2018 Sitting Volleyball World Championships will take place in venues across the Netherlands, between 15 and 22 July. More information is available on the event’s webpage.