Serbia celebrated a sixth Group 1 victory against Iran on Saturday
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 29, 2016 - The Preliminary Round of the 27th edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League reaches a climax in week three with five places up for grabs in the Group 1 Finals in Poland and three places to play for at the Group 2 Finals in Portugal. The 24 teams in Groups 1 and 2 will compete at six tournaments in Asia, Europe and North America.
The only unbeaten team in Group 1 are last year’s runners-up Serbia. With six wins from six matches, including victories over Olympic champions Russia, world champions Poland and record World League winners Brazil, Serbia’s record speaks for itself. Coach Nikola Grbic promises there is more to come: “The approach to each match is maybe the key to our game, and we are trying to establish a winning mentality. So far we are doing great, but we cannot think that we have finished the job. We will continue to push and do our best on the court.”
Serbia have been delayed by the tragic circumstances at Istanbul airport but are still hopeful of arriving in Tehran in time (Flight expected to leave on Wednesday evening local time).
To secure a place at the Group 1 Finals in Krakow from July 13 to 17, they need just one win at the week three Preliminary Round tournament in the Iranian capital, where they face hosts Iran, Argentina and Italy. A win would give Serbia a chance to atone for missing out on Olympic qualification by securing a first World League title.
Other countries battling it out for a place in the Group 1 Finals have already won the competition on several occasions: Brazil (9 titles), USA (2 titles), France (1 title) and Italy (8 titles). Group 1 Finals hosts Poland (1 title) are assured of a place in Krakow and will use their Preliminary Round tournament in Nancy, France to prepare. They have some top-quality opposition in the form of hosts and defending World League champions France (four wins so far in the Preliminary Round), Brazil (five wins) and Belgium (three wins).
Poland coach Stephane Antiga said: “Our form is not where it should be yet, but we will improve it soon.” Hosts France intend to use home advantage to claim a place in the Finals and then mount a successful defence of their title. France coach Laurent Tillie said: “I wish to see France again in Krakow, if we can book a ticket for the final six tournament.”
Brazil will be aiming to claim a historic 10th title in the World League – which would be ideal preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio. “We have come close to qualifying for the Finals, but we have one more very difficult tournament ahead of us, so we have to stay focused,” warned Brazil coach Bernardo Rezende. The same is true of 2015 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup winners USA, who hope to make home advantage count in Dallas against winless Australia and Bulgaria, and Olympic champions Russia (three wins).
Russia are also intent on qualifying for the Group 1 Finals. Alexey Verbov said: “I am not sure if we will be able to qualify for the Finals, but I hope that it is still possible with some luck. We have to win the next three matches in the United States.”
In Group 2 only three teams will progress to the Finals. As hosts, Portugal are already qualified for the Finals in Matosinhos from July 9 to 10. Of the remaining teams, Canada have the best chances of progressing. The euphoria that followed Olympic qualification has propelled the team to six wins in six Preliminary Round matches so far – and they are the only team in the group with a perfect record. Canada coach Glenn Hoag said: "Every play is a step toward Rio.”
Canada will take on Portugal, Cuba and hosts Finland in Tampere. The Finns have claimed four wins so far and will also hope to qualify for the Group 2 Finals. But as the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Egypt, who will meet each other in Seoul, South Korea this weekend, have also won four times so far, it promises to be an epic battle. Turkey are also well positioned with five wins to date. They face hosts China, Slovakia and Japan in Xuancheng.