Lausanne, Switzerland, January 6, 2014 – The completion of the third and final round of the European qualification process for the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship on Sunday saw six teams left celebrating their tickets to the FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship in Poland from August 30 to September 21.
The spectacular start to the new volleyball year saw Bulgaria, Serbia, Germany, Belgium and Finland top their groups to earn the right to compete in Poland later this year. They will be joined by France, who qualified as the best second-placed team. Among those to miss out were one of the biggest names in the history of volleyball, in the form of the Netherlands – 1996 Olympic champions and runners-up in 1994. Also reduced to the role of spectators in 2014 are the Czech Republic, who finished 10th in 2010, and Slovakia, whose parent state Czechoslovakia was twice crowned World Champion.
The six European teams who qualified this weekend joined hosts Poland and the top two teams from the European Championship - Olympic champions Russia and Italy - while Australia, Iran, China and Korea have already qualified from Asia and Argentina, Venezuela and world No. 1 Brazil from South America.
The Africa Confederation (three vacancies) and NORCECA Confederation (five vacancies) are still to complete their qualification process.
On the African continent, the year kicks off in February with three tournaments in Cameroon, Tunisia and Kenya, each featuring five teams with one ticket per tournament on offer to Poland.
Countries in the NORCECA confederation must wait the longest to discover their fate, with four qualifying tournaments (each with four teams) scheduled for May and June in the USA, Cuba, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as a continental play-off from July 9 to 14. By the end of this, the last five teams will have booked their place at the World Championships.
On a dramatic deciding weekend in Europe, it was Germany who emerged from their home tournament in Ludwigsburg with the best record of all 20 teams in the five preliminary tournaments: a dominant 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-19) in the all-important match against Turkey, three wins in total, 9-0 in sets – it was a demonstration of the team’s new-found strength. And national team coach Vital Heynen backed up the strong performance with a warning for the rest of the volleyball world: “We are out to win in 2014. Anyone wishing to be crowned world champions must first win 15 matches. We have three behind us with 12 still to come. Let’s see how far we progress.” The Germans proved at last year’s European Championship that they are capable of beating the best in the world, taking on Russia – world No. 2, eventual European Champions and arguably the strongest team in the world at present – and winning 3-0.
Back then, however, the Bulgarians brought an end to the German challenge in the quarterfinals. The Bulgarian squad, built around superstar Tsvetan Sokolov, earned their right to participate in the World Championship, but lost the final match in qualifying pool I to hosts the Czech Republic (3-2; 22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-12) in Opava. This saw Bulgaria finish the tournament with seven points, enough to claim first place in the pool, while the Czechs settled for third place behind the Netherlands. The host nation also missed out on a World Championship ticket at the tournament in neighbouring Slovakia. Finland completed a clean sweep of their matches at the World Championship qualifier in Poprad with a 3-2 victory over the Slovakians (24-26, 25-19, 25-19, 14-25, 15-10) to qualify for the Final Round of the 2014 World Championship in Poland. Slovakia ended their home campaign in a disappointing third place behind the Ukraine.
The 2013 European bronze medallists from Serbia maintained a perfect record on home soil in Nis beating Portugal 3-1 (22-25, 25-11, 25-19, 25-21). Only at the qualifying tournament in France did two teams have reason to celebrate. The hosts and Belgium played out an epic game in an incredible atmosphere at Carpentier hall in Paris on Sunday. Though the Belgians edged the hosts 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 25-17, 23-25, 15-11), both teams won the right to go to Poland in September for the World Championship. France finished the round as the best second-placed team in the five pools.
The rapid growth in the number of countries involved in the qualifying process is emphatic proof of just how tough the competition is around the world. While 113 teams strived for a ticket to the 2010 World Championship, this number had risen to 148 this time around, with national teams ranging from Guadeloupe and the Ivory Coast to Yemen. A total of 100 matches in a new competition format await the 24 finalists in Poland. The 24 teams will be spread across four pools of six teams playing in a round-robin system with the top four teams advancing to a second round of preliminary matches featuring two pools of eight teams. The top three from each pool will then advance to the third round phase, followed by semifinals and finals.
A glance at the history of the World Championship reveals why the hosts of the 2016 Olympic Games Brazil are also the hot favourites to claim the FIVB Volleyball World Championship title this year. After all, the last time the World Championship trophy went to a different country was back in 1998, when Italy were victorious. The Brazilians won a hat-trick of back-to-back titles in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and could make history with a fourth win in a row. “I hope we will continue to win in the coming years,” said Brazil’s star coach Bernardo Rezende after the recent triumph in the World Grand Champions Cup. However, the South Americans will face a stern test. The Russians, in particular, are hungry for the title – they have after all won every other major title over the past two years, with victory in the Olympics, the European Championship and the World League.
With six titles to its name, Russia’s predecessor - the Soviet Union - is the most successful nation since the first World Championship title was played out in 1949. However, it is now 32 years since the last gold medal (1982 in Buenos Aires). Brazil and Italy have both climbed onto the top step of the podium on three occasions, while Czechoslovakia triumphed on two occasions. USA, East Germany and Poland each have one title to their name. Every one of the millions of volleyball fans in the host nation of Poland is obviously dreaming of a repeat of the triumph in Mexico City, 1974.
Click here for the qualification overview