LUXEMBOURG, 5 May 2003 - The final round of qualifying for the European Championship is set for a fantastic showdown this weekend with 16 teams fighting it out for the last six vacancies.
Starting on Friday, four pools of four teams will play in seperate locations to determine which six teams will join the six - hosts Germany, defending champion Serbia & Montenegro, Italy, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland - already qualified.
Only the four group winners and the two best ranked second placed teams will earn a ticket to the final round, to be held in Karlsruhe, Leipzig and Berlin from September 5-14.
The qualification process for the Championship started a year ago with the first round of matches across the four qualification pools. The second round continues this weekend.
In Pool 1, Bulgaria is the favorite to win. The sixth ranked team at the 2001 European Championship won all three matches last year and has a two-point advantage over Hungary, Belgium and Croatia. These three teams all have a 1-win, 2-loss record and any further losses during the pool play in Zagreb, Croatia will seriously hinder their chances of qualifying.
Pool 2, meanwhile, is one of the most exciting qualification groups with World Championship bronze medallist France, Greece and outsider Finland all level with two victories. Romania completes this group, but has no chance of finishing top of the pool when play gets underway in Tampere, Finland.
Spain is the clear favorite in Pool 3. The Spanish team didn't drop a set in the three matches played last year. The Netherlands, the 1996 Olympic Champion, is currently in second place, but has a lot of work to do to qualify. Slovenia and Macedonia are almost out of contention, but these teams can play a crucial role by winning sets or even a match against Spain and the Netherlands in Strumica, Macedonia.
Pool 4 sees Portugal and Slovakia joint leaders, but they only have a one-win advantage over Ukraine and Turkey. The fact that this pool is playing in Istanbul, Turkey could be a major advantage for the Turkish team.
To determine the two best second-placed teams, the two teams with the most victories will qualify. In case of a tie, the set ratio will count and if they are still level, the point ratio will come into consideration.