France coach Laurent Tillie's team lost to Australia in 2014
Sydney, Australia, June 16, 2016 - French coach Laurent Tillie and his team don’t have particularly fond memories of the last time they came to Sydney to play World League.
It was 2014, and his team were the red-hot favourites to win the Group Two finals that weekend and progress to the coveted top level of World League.
But in a major boilover, home side Australia knocked the Europeans over in an epic five-set final match to book their ticket to the World League finals and a place in Group one the next season.
Tillie and his team had the last laugh though, not only winning the overall World League title last year, but also doing what Australian couldn’t in Tokyo last week – qualifying for Rio.
“I think each team has evolved in direction since then,” Tillie said this week.
“We are more concerned about preparation and the high level of our game. We are more focused on how we will play.
“We want to play well in the World League, because we won it last year. But it is difficult to know where we are.”
Joining France and Australia in Sydney this weekend will be Rio-bound Italy and fellow Europeans, Belgium.
By contrast to Italy and France, Australia has had to overcome the disappointment of just missing out on a place in Rio, which has presented coach Roberto Santilli with some issues.
“It was a difficult time,” he said.
“It is not easy, but I think all of them have in their minds that we are a young team that has a lot to learn, and we have a big future in front of us.
“They will have more chances. I really think this is just at the beginning of the path, starting with this World League.
“We had a chance to qualify. We were a bit unlucky, we had some problems with injuries before the tournament.
“But this is the life of sport. If you don’t take the chance, someone else will take the chance. We are really disappointed.”
France and Italy will be using this World League campaign to fine-tune their squads ahead of the Rio Olympics.
It will be the first appearance for France since 2004, while Italy will be looking to improve on their bronze medal from London 2012.
The fourth team this weekend, Belgium, have only ever been to the Olympics once, in 1968, but have been one of the most improved teams in the world in recent years.