Belgium and Finland in action at the 2014 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 22, 2015 - Following the spectacular opening round, with double victories for the Netherlands and Canada, an all-European duel takes centre stage in the second weekend of this year’s FIVB Volleyball World League.
The two matches between Finland and Belgium in Tampere’s Ice Arena on Saturday and Sunday (14:10 GMT) offer a taste of things to come next week, when volleyball giants including record winners Brazil, Olympic champions Russia and world champions Poland join the fray.
Finland warmed up for their opening match of the 26th FIVB Volleyball World League with a friendly series against one of the tournament’s dark horses. The Finns won two of their three games against Iran, who finished sixth in the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Poland 2014 – an excellent result.
This shows the ambition of the emerging team, which is making its tenth consecutive appearance in the FIVB World League. “I’m really glad that we played these hard matches against such a good opponent. It was very good for our preparations: we got a lot of good answers,” said former top player and current national coach Tuomas Sammelvuo. Finland have their sights set on winning Group E, which also features the Netherlands and Portugal. That would secure them a ticket to the Group 2 finals in Bulgaria on July 10-11, where a place at the FIVB World League finals is up for grabs.
However, the Suomi team is not thinking that far ahead. “We have to take it one step at a time,” said Sammelvuo. Even more so as they face an opponent in Belgium that, despite missing top players like Tuerlinckx, Depestele, Van de Voorde and Verhanneman, also has aspirations of topping Group 1. “We obviously start without three or four key players, but I have learned not to complain about that,” said coach Dominique Baeyens. “Still, I stand by my principle of aiming for first place in our group. All of this will certainly not be easy. The matches between Portugal and the Netherlands have already given an indication of how good our opponents are.”
His team, which finished an impressive eleventh on its successful debut in the FIVB Volleyball World League last year, was cheered on by its supporters at a recent fan day.
However, the focus is firmly on the team’s opening match in the World League, and the head coach of the “Red Dragons” has the greatest respect for Finland. “I've seen pictures of the Finnish team in their friendly matches against Iran last week. That seemed more or less the same team as last year. In their country, the Finnish volleyball team was named the best team of the year – that tells you all you need to know.”
The two teams met last year in the World League – and the matches were all exciting and high-quality affairs. Finland won three games 3-2, with Belgium winning the fourth 3-1. This weekend’s rematch promises to be a thriller. And it is something of a warm-up act for week three, when the big guns join the action.
USA and Poland – without World Championship MVP Mariusz Wlazly and Michal Winiarski - are joined in Group B by another two favourites for the title – Iran and Olympic champions Russia. Group A is at least as strong and features record World League winners and final round hosts Brazil, eight-time World League winners and bronze medallists last time out, Italy, three-times silver medallists Serbia and rising nation Australia.
The big final will feature six teams. Host country and world number one Brazil - hungry for new titles after silver at the World Championships and in the FIVB World League last year - are already certain of their place, and will be joined by the top two teams from “Super Pool” A and Pool B, plus the winner of the Group 2 final.
The 2015 FIVB World League is a record-breaking tournament, with defending champions USA just one of 32 men’s teams, and ends with a spectacular highlight. The grand finale will take place at the Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from July 15-19 and will serve as a test event for the volleyball competition at the Olympic Games in 2016 at the same venue.