Lausanne, Switzerland, July 7, 2016 - Last year's FIVB Volleyball World League Group 2 winners were France. And their glorious story is well publicised.
France went on to win their first World League title before being crowned European champions. They will be among the favourites to win gold when they travel to Brazil for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The four teams in this year's Group 2 Finals - Canada, Portugal, Turkey and the Netherlands - would love to be as successful.
The second title in the 2016 edition of the World League, and with it promotion to Group 1, is up for grabs in Matosinhos, Portugal, on Saturday and Sunday after Slovenia triumphed in Group 3 last weekend
Group 2 Preliminary Round winners Canada go into the Final Four as favourites. They are riding on the crest of a wave following their successful qualification for the Olympic Games in Rio, and won their first eight Preliminary Round matches in the World League. Only in the final match, when qualification for the Final Four was already guaranteed, did Canada lose 3-2 to Finland. “This was of course a disappointing end for us because we had won all the previous matches. But we must forget this and concentrate on the Final Four. We want to take the title,” said Fred Winters, captain of Canada.
For coach Glenn Hoag, the most important thing is to: “Hit top form ahead of the Olympic Games.” Matches like Saturday’s semifinal against Turkey will prepare the team well. Turkey also ended the Preliminary Round with a fine record of eight wins from nine matches. Turkey coach Emanuele Zanini said: “It will be a difficult game against Canada, they are very strong. However, my players will once again show great heart. This tournament is a key milestone in our development.”
Finals hosts Portugal are looking forward to one of the biggest volleyball events in their country ever and will want to draw inspiration from the passionate fans at the Centro de Desportos e Congressos de Matosinhos.
Their Preliminary Round performances included just two wins in nine matches, however, and the team finished bottom of the twelve-team group. Coach Francisco Santos remains optimistic, however: “I am not very happy till now. Our work has been preparation for the Final Four. In these matches we have used many players to prepare for the Finals, where our goal is to win the tournament.”
That will be a tough task. A Finals host has drawn on the support of a home crowd to win continental Group 2 on one occasion in the past, however. In 2014, Australia defeated France 3-2 in the final in Sydney. Portugal are hoping for a similar outcome in Matosinhos. However, to progress to the final they must first defeat their semifinal opponents on Saturday.
The Netherlands, who won the World League in 1996, won 3-0 when they met Portugal in this year's Preliminary Round. The Portuguese will probably prefer to cast their minds back to 2015, when they defeated the Netherlands in Matosinhos.
Arguably however, the Dutch are stronger this year, even if they did lose their final Preliminary Round match against Korea. Netherlands captain Jasper Diefenbach said: "We made a lot of errors. I believe that it is not easy to play for three weeks. However, we have recharged our batteries and want to put on a good show in the final round.”
It is 20 years since the Dutch team won the World League and Olympic gold and the tournament in Matosinhos may be their chance to celebrate that anniversary in style.