Lausanne, Switzerland, June 30, 2016 - The 27th edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League can look forward to its first finals on Friday and Saturday when the Group 3 title is up for grabs in Frankfurt am Main.
The Group 3 winners will be promoted to Group 2 in 2017 and the favourites, based on performances in the Preliminary Round, are newcomers Slovenia, who could pick up their first title on their World League debut. The European Championship runners-up face Greece in the second semifinal on Friday. Hosts Germany, who finished third at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in 2014, take on Chinese Taipei.
“We have to be honest: the top two teams meet in the other semifinal, with Slovenia the hot favourites. However, the fans’ support will certainly help us,” said Germany coach Vital Heynen. He has started to rebuild his team after narrowly missing out on qualification for the Olympics. Superstar Georg Grozer has called time on his career in the national team, while former lynchpins Denys Kaliberda, Ferdinand Tille and Markus Steuerwald are also missing. However, playmaker Lukas Kampa returns from illness for the showdown in Frankfurt.
“We are on the right track. Everyone can look forward to Frankfurt,” said German captain Dirk Westphal. The Final Four on home soil is the highlight of the season for the German team. It also marks the start of successful coach Heynen’s final bow. He will take over as the new head coach of his native Belgium next year, but is looking to end his successful era in Germany with a win. Victory against Chinese Taipei is a must, even if they did lose their Preliminary Round clash 1-3.
“They are a small team physically, but are very technical and play a different type of volleyball. We cannot afford to underestimate them. After all, we lost to them earlier in the competition. We must raise our game and win the semifinal, but we still have room for improvement,” said Heynen. “If we take another step forward, we will not necessarily be favourites at the final tournament in Frankfurt, but we will be good outsiders.” The real outsiders are World League newcomers Chinese Taipei, who have already surpassed everyone’s expectations. “This is the first time we have played in the World League so there was no great pressure on us. We just wanted to enjoy the game and relax as we play,” said Pei-Hung Huang.
Slovenia go into the Final Four with great title ambitions, as they look to crown their relentless rise with a title. The team’s only defeat of the Preliminary Round came in their last match against Greece (1-3) – the very same team they now meet again in the semifinal in Frankfurt. “The semifinal against Greece will be a totally different game,” said Italian volleyball legend Andrea Giani, who has been instrumental in Slovenia’s progress as head coach. Captain Tine Urnaut added: “The Final Four will be a high-quality tournament. We want to play our best volleyball there. We won’t think about our winning options, we will only think about the semifinal and I hope that we will beat Greece this time.”
However, Greece are also determined to continue their winning run. Head coach of Greece, Sotiris Drikos, said: “We achieved an important goal in qualifying for the Final Four. But we are not at the end: the most beautiful part is that there will be quite a few Greek immigrants in Frankfurt and we will try to make them happy.”
This is the third time in the history of the World League that the Group 3 Finals have been played and not once have the hosts emerged triumphant so far.