Winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, in 2021, was the biggest result obtained by the Argentinean men’s national team in over three decades. This year, the South Americans could have an opportunity to repeat or even improve from that result at the Paris 2024 Games.

The first step is actually qualifying for the next Olympics. Argentina had the first opportunity to do it last year, during the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament, in China, but ranked third behind Poland and Canada, and entered the Olympic year without a spot in the event.

The South Americans are, however, in a solid position to qualify, ranking second in the FIVB Men’s World Ranking among the teams still without a ticket to Paris and can even drop two spots before the end of the 2024 Volleyball Nations League Preliminary Phase and still qualify.

Despite their setback in the Olympic Qualifier, the 2023 season was far from a frustrating one for the Argentineans, as they secured a solid fifth-place finish in the VNL, their best-ever result in the tournament, won silver at the Pan American Games and took a historic gold at the South American Championship, lifting the trophy for the first time in 59 years and ending a five-decade plus dominance of rivals Brazil in the continent.

The solid results obtained in 2023 and the permanence of the vast majority of the players that were part of the squad that took bronze in Tokyo three years ago give the Argentineans the confidence they can make some noise again in 2024.

One of the stars of the team, opposite Bruno Lima was the top scorer of the Tokyo Olympics and has been playing with the country’s national team since 2016. The 28-year-old player, who could make his third straight Olympic appearance this summer, is enjoying a new experience in his club career, playing for the first time in Brazil, with Volei Renata Campinas.

As the Brazilian Superliga playoffs progress, we chatted with Lima about his challenges at both the club and the international level in 2024 in an exclusive Volleyball World interview.

Volleyball World: You have played in Argentina, France, Germany Türkiye and Saudi Arabia before. How is your first experience in Brazil going? What makes the Brazilian League different than the others you have played at?

Lima: I’ve been enjoying playing in Brazil. It took me a little while to adapt here, but the people welcomed me in a great way and that helped speed things up a little bit. The Superliga is very competitive and I think it’s a league that will continue to grow. When comparing it to the other leagues I’ve played, I think that the main difference is the defensive volume they have here. Every match is hard here and the demand is very high against every opponent.

VW: At Campinas, you got to work with an Argentinean setter and coach, who you already knew from the national team. How much their presence has helped you adapt to the team and the league?

Lima: I’ve known Horacio (Dileo) and Demián (Gonzalez) for a long time. I’ve been with them at the Olympics – Demián in Rio and Horacio in Tokyo – and it’s great to be on the same team as them again. Having familiar faces here helped me adapt and they continue to help me feel well here in Campinas. Knowing they were here was also a factor for me to decide to come.

VW: Last season, you and your Argentinean teammates achieved a historic result at the South American Championship, beating Brazil on their home soil at the South American Championship and ending their dominance of several decades in the continent. What are the memories you have from that event? Considering the context, would you say it was one of the most remarkable results obtained by the Argentinean national team?

Lima: It was an amazing tournament for us. To be able to beat a full-force Brazil in their home court made it very special. We’ve been in so many South American finals with Brazil before but had never been able to win. I think this is a result of the great work we’ve been doing with the national team over the last years. We were very competitive in 2023 and got good results at the VNL before the South American Championship, so to be able to win that title was something historic. We were very emotional after that match and it’s a moment all of us will remember with great joy, for sure.

VW: How do you see the rivalry between Argentina and Brazil in volleyball? For several years, Brazil has been dominant, but that changed over the last few years. What do you think made Argentina catch up with them? Did you always believe that was possible?

Lima: There’s a big rivalry between Argentina and Brazil in every sport. In volleyball, Brazil has always been a powerhouse and we always wanted to be among the best in the world too. I thought we had good teams in the past, but were never able to accomplish what they did at the international level. We always prepared to try and get good results against them and we managed to do that over the last three or four years. We now can compete with them on an equal footing, which hasn’t always been the case. It’s a very healthy rivalry, we have a great relationship with the Brazilian players and I think that only makes the sport better.

VW: Besides the South American title, the 2023 season also had a silver medal at the Pan American Games and a fifth-place finish at the VNL. However, Olympic qualification, which was probably the main goal for the season, didn’t happen. What are your thoughts about the season and what are some of the lessons you learned from it?

Lima: We thought last season was very positive for us, even if we didn’t get to accomplish the main goal, which was qualifying for the Olympics. We came up just one point short of it and had other very good results, such as qualifying for the VNL Finals, which we hadn’t done in quite some time. Besides that, we won the South American Championship and were second at the Pan American Games, so it was a good year. We’re going to have another chance to qualify for Paris and we hope we can take advantage of it.

VW: Argentina’s first goal in 2024 will be to qualify for Paris 2024 through the VNL. How confident are you that you guys will be able to get it done?

Lima: I think we have a good chance of qualifying in the VNL. We have a very strong squad, which is capable of getting the results we need, and we’re in a good position in the World Rankings, which is a great start. We hope we can qualify and we’re looking forward to getting it done as soon as possible.

VW: If Argentina manage to qualify, do you think the team will get to Paris in a position to fight for a medal, like you did in Tokyo? What changed in the team in these three years? What about international volleyball, how different does it look now?

Lima: I think every team goes to the Olympics with the goal of getting a historic result and each of them has the ability to do it. It’s a very short and intense tournament and the key is to be at your 100% during the entire time. Teams that are well-prepared physically, technically and mentally have the best chance of doing it and I think it will be the same with us. We have a good mix of young and veteran players and we have the quality to do something big. But there’s still some time for the Olympics and we’ll need to see how each team will get there.

VW: The Tokyo Olympics were memorable for you, as besides helping Argentina win bronze, you were also the tournament’s top scorer. Would you say it was the most remarkable event in your career? When you think about Tokyo, what comes to your mind?

Lima: Tokyo was excellent for the national team and for myself. We won a historic bronze medal and that has marked everyone’s lives. The experience was incredible, we had a lot of moments of tension, but also enjoyed a lot and all of that made it very special. It was, for sure, the most special tournament of my career so far.

VW: Several young players have joined the Argentinean national team over the last few years and many of them now have important roles with the team. But how important you think the veterans, namely Luciano De Cecco and Facundo Conte, have been for the team’s recent success?

Lima: A lot of young players joined the national team these past years and I think that the role of the veterans in that moment is to help them feel comfortable. Players need to be relaxed and confident to perform and I think the other veterans and them have been really good at making our young players comfortable and helping them adapt.