Lausanne, Switzerland, May 27, 2015 - The emotional duel between world champions Poland and Olympic winners Russia is the highlight of week three of the 2015 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League. The 17 other matches from Thursday to Sunday also include an encounter between defending champions USA and Iran. Brazil play Serbia and last year's third-placed Italy take on Australia.
Poland beat Russia on the way to a sensational title win at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Poland 2014, ending Russian dreams of winning the event.
The rematches take place in Gdansk on Thursday and Friday, but there have been big changes to both teams since the World Championship. Russia travel without some of their stars, including Dmitriy Muserskiy. The team of hosts Poland has also changed: World Championship MVP Mariusz Wlazly and Michal Winiarski have ended their careers with the national team. Top star Bartosz Kurek, however, celebrates his return to the squad and Karol Klos is the new team captain.
Russia (2011 and 2013) and Poland (2012) have won three of the last four editions of the World League. However, it was the USA who were victorious last year, and they will begin the title defence when they take on Iran in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday in the other duel in Pool B.
"We just have to get better in a lot of different ways," said US head coach John Speraw. His team suffered a surprising 2-3 defeat in the final of the NORCECA Champions Cup last weekend, but still qualified for the FIVB Volleyball World Cup.
Opponents Iran prepared for the FIVB World League in Europe and celebrated two clear wins against the Czech Republic in their most recent tests. “We tried to analyse the US team. They serve very well and put their opponents under pressure. The quality of their serves is much higher than ours, but we will try our best to reach their level. We will have very tough games but my players will fight until the end to get the result,” said Iran coach Slobodan Kovac.
The matches in Pool A also start this weekend. Record winners Brazil renew their attempts to win a historic tenth title in the FIVB World League with two home matches against Serbia.
Serbia have a strong group of players, which puts their team in the world's best. "All games will be tough. As of the first round, there are no easy opponents," said coach Bernardo Rezende.
As the hosts of the grand finale – which will take place at the Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro from July 15-19, which will serve as a test event for the volleyball competition at the Olympic Games in 2016 – Brazil have already qualified for the Finals. That makes Bernardinho's job easier: "This means we can't force any situation and will work hard, seeking to win every game, but allowing players to have optimum fitness for the final stretch. We will get the wins, but try to alternate players."
In the other duel in pool B, eight-time FIVB World League winners Italy head to Australia. Coach Mauro Berruto, who has taken six newcomers on the long journey down-under, wants to make the Italian colony at the other end of the world happy: "Every time we wear the national team colours, we do it in the hope of making all Italians proud. Of course, we will try our best to give hope to all those who come to see us."
The two best teams of each of “super pools A and B”, plus the host country and world number one Brazil – hungry for new titles after silver at the World Championships and in the World League last year – will play at the big final. A sixth ticket goes to the winners of the Group 2 Finals. The destination of this ticket will be decided in Bulgaria from July 10-11.
Important matches are also taking place in Group 3 in the third weekend. In pool C, Bulgaria host the powerful Canada team, who have already beaten Cuba twice in the FIVB World League, and beat the USA 3-2 at the weekend.
But Bulgaria also proved to be in great form in two 3-2 test matches against Serbia. Bulgaria coach Plamen Konstantinov said. “We tested ourselves, but we need to improve.”
In the other duel in pool C, Argentina take on Cuba.
In pool D, events get underway in Asia. Japan play hosts to the Czech Republic and South Korea welcome France.
Pool E includes a rematch between Belgium and Finland – last week the "Red Dragons" surprised everyone with two 3-2 wins in Finland.
The 26th staging of the FIVB World League has also seen the competition expand again. 32 teams – four more than in 2014 – will do battle for the title in the most prestigious annual event in the volleyball world, which this year spans a record ten weeks.