Lausanne, Switzerland, January 17, 2014 - It is now almost 20 years since the Netherlands were one of the most dominant countries in international volleyball. The men finished runner's-up in the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in 1994, and were crowned Olympic champions two years later. When this year’s FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship takes place in Poland from September 3 to 21, the men will be mere spectators for the third time in a row. The hopes of the entire nation will once again rest with the ladies this year.
The reaction to qualifying for the World Championship revealed just how important this success was for the volleyball-mad Dutch fans. The team posted a picture of them celebrating the qualification on Facebook (nederlandsdamesvolleybalteam) and wrote: ‘Yessss we did it, qualified!’. As a result, their Facebook page exploded. The post received many likes and prompted fans to show their support and congratulate the players. It was the same story on Twitter (@volleybaldames).
Two excellent 3-0 victories over France and Hungary and a tight 3-2 defeat to Croatia at the qualifying tournament in the Croatian coastal town of Rovinj were sufficient to progress to the finals. The Netherlands were awarded their ticket to the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Italy, from September 23 to October 12, as one of the two best second-placed teams at the five European qualifying tournaments.
“In the fourth set, I was told that we had already qualified for the World Championship, regardless of the result of this game,” said Dutch coach Gido Vermeulen. “However, I did not inform my players until the fifth set. Croatia played well in the first and second, while we were able to display some good volleyball in the third and fourth. I am not happy with our defeat, but nevertheless very pleased with our qualification for the Worlds.”
Captain Maret Grothues was simply relieved: “I’m so happy we qualified. We knew it would be difficult to play against Croatia in Croatia, but we managed to keep calm and kept confidence in each other and our play. We fought back from 2-0 to 2-2 and knew in the fifth set that we had done enough to qualify. Mission accomplished!’’
With 25 points, experienced spiker Manon Flier was once again the outstanding points-scorer in the deciding match against Croatia. Around her, Vermeulen has built a young, strong team that showed flashes of brilliance in some of the games at last year’s European Championship in Germany and Switzerland, despite finishing a disappointing ninth. Since then, the team has become more dangerous, as Hungary’s coach Laszlo Hollosy acknowledged after his team’s 3-0 defeat: “The Netherlands have improved a lot recently.”
The main improvements have come in the team’s skill and tactical prowess on court, as the Dutch have been among the most physically strong teams in the world for a long time. They have won gold (1995), silver twice (1991 and 2009) and bronze (1985) at the European Championship. And the Netherlands have also triumphed in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in 2007. The prestigious annual competition between the best international volleyball teams – this year with a record number of 28 teams – will also provide the perfect preparation for the highlight of the 2014 season. They will play with Poland, Peru, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada, Cuba and Belgium. The neighbouring Belgians, whose ladies and men’s teams both qualified for the World Championships, also proved the perfect sparring partner for the Oranje team ahead of the successful qualifying campaign.
The Dutch ladies will be making their 13th appearance at the World Championship. Although they are yet to win a medal, the team has finished no lower than 11th (2011) in their last six outings, with seventh place in 1996 their best result.
“The Netherlands have always been present at the World Championships and we are relieved and happy that we will be there in Italy for this year’s tournament too. We have a young team with a lot of potential. This major global tournament gives us the chance to compete against the strongest countries in the world, which is essential experience if you want to grow in quality,” said Manon Flier, looking ahead to the highlight of the season.
Vermeulen is already looking forward to taking on the best teams in the world. “We are glad to be present at the 2014 World Championship. We have a promising young team, for whom it is essential to play at the World Championship to develop further. Italy is a beautiful volleyball country, with halls packed full with volleyball fans. It’s fantastic to play in this atmosphere,” he said. And Vermeulen has one primary goal: “We want to use this world stage to show what we are capable of, and to amaze the world.”