Lausanne, Switzerland, May 12, 2015 - The 2015 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League show kicks off on Saturday (14.00 GMT) at the Centro Desportos e Congressos de Matosinhos. Hosts Portugal will take on the Netherlands in the first match of the competition, heralding the start of a ten-week demonstration of the best of international volleyball.
Portugal’s coach Hugo Silva can hardly wait to get started: “To compete at this level is the dream of every athlete. It will be an important moment in my team's rebuilding process. Let’s hope they seize this opportunity.”
The Portuguese open their campaign against former World League and Olympic champions the Netherlands, with new national coach Gido Vermeulen on the bench.
Another former World League winner is in action on the opening weekend when Cuba take on hosts Canada in Calgary.
The big favourites for overall victory in the FIVB World League, however, will only begin their campaigns at the end of the month.
The 26th edition of the 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 World League Group 1 Finals will take place at the Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from July 15-19. They will serve as a test event for the volleyball competition at the Olympic Games in 2016, which will take place at the same venue - volleyball has attracted the most attention for 2016 Olympic Games tickets (27%), ahead of football (21.9%), swimming (21%) and athletics (20.6%).
This is further evidence of the success of the growth strategy implemented by the International Volleyball Federation. The FIVB World League has also expanded once again. 32 teams – four more than in 2014 – will do battle for the title at the most prestigious annual event in the volleyball world, which this year spans a record ten weeks.
“The 2014 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League was the best ever, bringing the competition to a bigger and increasingly enthusiastic audience,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°. “And we hope for even more in 2015.”
The hope is justified, as the field is stronger than ever. Defending champions USA, spearheaded by last year’s FIVB World League MVP Taylor Sander, and captained by the returning Read Priddy, will be challenged by a handful of top-class nations.
Poland, on the back of the triumph at their home World Championship, are hungry to add a second World League title to the one they won in 2012. “We need to battle the energy that the Polish fans bring no matter where they are in the world,” said US head coach John Speraw, looking ahead to the encounters with the world champions in the preliminary round.
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, in particular, Olympic champions Russia.
The Russians, who are ranked second in the world, have a score to settle, having missed out on the podium at the World Championships and the FIVB World League in 2014. They could also provide a truly sensational comeback. The 25-man squad is captained by 40-year-old volleyball legend Sergey Tetyukhin.
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 Championship 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 winners of the Group 2 ticket will be decided in Bulgaria from July 10-11. Group 2 consists of Pools C, D and E. Bulgaria will take on Cuba, Canada and Argentina in Pool C. France, Japan, South Korea and the Czech Republic make up Pool D, while Pool E includes Belgium, Portugal, Finland and the Netherlands.
The remaining twelve teams make up Group 3. Two tournament weekends will decide who progress to the Final Four in Slovakia from July 3-5.
In Group 3, the spotlight will be on two World League debutants, in the form of Euro League winners Montenegro (in Pool F with Tunisia, Puerto Rico and Turkey) and Kazakhstan (in Pool H, with the returning Egypt and Venezuela, as well as Spain). Greece will play China, Mexico and Slovakia when they make their World League comeback in Pool G.
Last year the United States defeated world number one Brazil in the big final 3-1 (31-29, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23) to claim their second World League title in front of 9,000 fans at the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy.
In doing so, the USA also claimed a jackpot of one million dollars. The final was the icing on the cake in a season that saw a 50 per cent increase in crowds and was available for hundreds of millions of households to watch on TV. Records are guaranteed to be broken again in 2015, when a 26th chapter is added to the success story of the FIVB World League.