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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Beginner's guide to volleyball
Sydney volleyball final
The fast game became even faster
Volleyball's popularity has recently been challenged by the emergence of the sport's beach variety

In response to the change in status quo at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when beach volleyball proved a huge draw, the authorities revamped the traditional game.

The basics remained the same, but a new position - the libero - was created in an effort to introduce longer rallies and more spectacular defensive play.

Organisers also made the game even faster by decreeing that either side could score a point on any rally, irrespective of who is serving.

Athens will feature two 12-team tournaments, with the countries split into two pools of six in both the men's and women's events.

Group A: Argentina, France, Greece, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro & Tunisia
Group B: Brazil, USA, Italy, Australia, Netherlands & Russia
Women:Group A: Brazil, Italy, Greece, Japan, Kenya & Korea
Group B: China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Germany, Russia & the USA
The top four teams from each pool will go through to the quarter-finals where the competition becomes a straight knockout.

Volleyball has undoubtedly suffered from the popularity and glamour of its sister sport, played on the beach.

And though few are willing to admit it, the pull of the sand and the sun has hit the indoor game hard.

But there is little doubt that as a sport, the six-player variety is far more impressive to watch.

Both men and women compete in best-of-five set matches.

A set is won by the first to reach 25 points (15 in the fifth set), although they must also be two points clear of their opponents.

A volleyball court measures 18m by 9m with a net at 2.43m (2.24m for women) bisecting the playing area.

Points are won when a team manages to land the ball in the opposition's half of the court, and rallies also end when the ball is hit out of bounds or when a team does not return it legally.

The players begin the match in a fixed position, the three front-row players close to the net and the three back-row players at the baseline, although when a team wins a service point they rotate position clockwise.

Power attacker: Leads attack
Centre: Blocks attacks
Passer: Decides on strategy
Back-row left: Digs up short balls and supports attackers
Back-row centre: Digs up long balls and blocks attacks
Back-row right: Digs up short balls and often used to spike
Libero: Digs up shots and sets up counter-atttacks
Teams can also make up to six substitutions during a set.

The libero, who wears a different colour from their team-mates, can come on to the court at anytime and their role is to get low to the ground, dig out shots from the opposition and set up counter attacks.

They cannot serve, spike shots at the net or play in the front line.

A team may hit the ball three times, in addition to the initial block, in trying to manipulate a point-winning play.

In doing so they are not permitted to hold the ball, however briefly, and cannot hit it twice without a team-mate touching it.

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