Lausanne, Switzerland, June 10, 2015 - World champions Poland take on
high-flyers USA - and that is just one of the many highlights in this
cracker of a week of FIVB Volleyball World League action.
A record 38 matches - almost a quarter of the 160 that make up this year’s record-breaking tournament - will be held around the world from Friday to Sunday. The twelve teams in Intercontinental Group 3 also enter the fray with three four-team tournaments taking place in Podgorica, Montenegro, Taraz, Kazahkstan and Tepic, Mexico.
Possibly the most eye-catching tie of this global volleyball weekend will be played out in Chicago. Defending champions USA, the only team in Intercontinental Group 1 with a maximum twelve points to their name, welcome the Poles (currently on 10 points), who are also undefeated in their four matches.
Even volleyball superstar Murilo Endres of record FIVB World League winners and current world number ones Brazil believes these two teams are probably the best in the world at this moment in time: “I believe the United States are the team that is playing most consistently. They are keeping up a good standard of play. Besides them, Poland are also a very strong team. The same team that were world champions last season are a very strong group.”
Poland claimed two home wins against Iran last weekend, while the USA and their outstanding star Matt Anderson sent Olympic champions Russia packing with two bitter defeats. “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. Poland’s successful coach Stephane Antiga sees the duel as the “next big test for the team. Our start was great, but it will get more difficult now.”
The other two teams in Pool B have had a really tough time of it so far: Olympic champions Russia and Iran are without a win from their first four matches and face each other in Kazan both needing a win to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the Finals.
“At the moment, we are looking at Rio de Janeiro through binoculars. We must restart and reset after these two matches and start training immediately to increase our skill level,” said Russia coach Sergio Busato. Only the two top teams from each of pools A and B plus host country and world number one will play in the big final. The final ticket goes to the winner of Group 2. The big final will take place at the Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro 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.
Brazil are already on course to hit top form – and have demonstrated that by claiming four victories and eleven points in their home matches so far. Last year’s finalists, who have been waiting five years for their tenth triumph in the FIVB World League, now face their first tough test away from home, in the form of Serbia. “Playing against Brazil is always one of the absolute highlights for any player in the world. However, we will obviously be trying to win,” said Serbian coach Nikola Grbic ahead of the matches in Novi Sad and Beograd.
In the other duel in Pool A, hosts Italy are the clear favourites against the team from Australia.
France, who finished fourth at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Poland 2014, is the only one of the twelve teams in Intercontinental Group 2 with a perfect record of four wins and twelve points. “Les Bleus” welcome the Czech Republic this weekend. French captain Benjamin Toniutti said: “After picking up four wins on our Asian tour of Korea and Japan, the pressure is off a bit when we welcome the Czech Republic at home.” The other match in Group 2 is the all-Asian clash between Korea and Japan. While in Pool D a clear favourite, in the form of France, has emerged to win the group and progress to the Group 2 Finals, the other pools remain closer affairs.
In what might prove to be the crucial match in Pool C, Canada (14 points from six matches) take on Bulgaria (eight points from four matches), who are already guaranteed their place at the Group 2 Finals as hosts. Pool E has developed into a two-team race between Belgium (14 points from six matches) and the Netherlands (seven points from four matches). The “Oranjes” host Finland, while Belgium take on winless Portugal.
Two pools in Intercontinental Group 3 - the best teams in the Group will play the Finals in Slovakia from July 4-5. 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).
The two newcomers have home advantage. In Pool G, Mexico are at home against strong opposition from China, Slovakia and Greece.
“I am looking forward to gaining new experience in a great competition like the World League, with interesting matches against teams like China and Mexico,” said 35-year-old Slovakian captain Michal Masny. “Our goal is to win the finals in Bratislava to advance to Group 2 next year.
The 26th staging of the FIVB World League has also expanded once again. 32 teams – four more than in 2014 – battle for the title at the most prestigious annual event in the volleyball world, which this year spans a record ten weeks.