Lausanne, July 2, 2008 – The excitement and competitiveness of the 2008 FIVB World League so far is underlined by the number of fans flocking to watch the matches and the fact that the tournament enters its fourth weekend with every team having been defeated at least once in the Intercontinental Rounds.
Cheered on by more than 13,000 fans last week, Italy flung the doors of Pool B wide open with their victory over Russia in the first match between the European giants, with the Russians the last to experience a loss. They still lead Pool B, though, with a 5-1 win-loss record, while Brazil (5-1 win-loss) head up Pool A, USA (5-1) lead Pool C and China (4-2) stand at the top of Pool D.
The organizer (Brazil), the winner of each pool, plus one wild card chosen by the FIVB, go through to the Final Round in Rio de Janeiro from July 23-27, 2008. If the Brazilians win Pool A, the second-place team (currently France with four wins, two losses) advances to the Final Round.
In the fourth weekend of matches in Pool A, Serbia (2-4) host Brazil in Belgrade and Novi Sad, with the latter - Sunday, July 6, at 18:30 GMT (20:30 local time) - the FIVB “Match of the Week,” free-to-air for all television broadcasters. In Toulouse, France host Venezuela. In Pool B, Russia face Cuba (3-3) in Kazan and Italy (4-2) take on Korea (0-6) in Trieste, in Pool C Finland (0-6) host Bulgaria (4-2) in Tampere and Spain (3-3) welcome USA in Madrid, while in Pool D Poland (3-3) host China and Egypt (3-3) travel to Japan (2-4).
The Sports Halls in Belgrade and Novi Sad are expected to be packed out with fans with tickets hard to come by when Serbia and world No. 1 Brazil come together. Brazil, chasing an eighth World League title and sixth in a row, and Serbia have played each other 14 times in the World League and the Serbians have won just twice, the last time in the Final Round in Rotterdam in 2000. Serbia need two victories over Brazil to keep their hopes alive for the Final Round in Rio de Janeiro. "Even though we expect the Brazilians to come to Belgrade at full strength, with Giba in the team roster, I believe we can beat them at least once," said Serbia captain Nikola Grbic.
The French will try to bounce back from the straight sets defeat to Serbia in Lyon last weekend when they host the Venezuelans. France, led by Head Coach Phillipe Blain, went down 25-20, 33-31, 25-19 against the Serbians and with the hosts still missing key scorer Antonin Rouzier they are facing an uphill battle in the last two matches before leaving for World League matches in Brazil and Serbia. Captain Gerald Hardy-Dessources and his teammates, ranked second in Pool A with 10 points, know winning both matches would keep them on track in the race for the Final Round. The Venezuelans say goodbye to their phenomenal home support for the first time this weekend, after 24,000 fans crammed into their Caracas venue to watch last weekend’s matches against Brazil.
Eight-time World League winners Italy, looking for their first title since 2000, face Korea after flourishing in front of 5,200 fans in Florence against the Russians last week. Russia came back to win the second match in front of 7,900 in Rome, though, so the Italians will be going all out for two victories against Korea. The Koreans had no joy in Cuba and won just the one set over the weekend.
The 2002 World League winners Russia will be facing Cuba. The Russians are sharing the workload in this year’s competition so far, with their Best Scorer being Semen Poltavskiy in joint-33rd position in the rankings. Cuba say goodbye to their wonderful support in Havana – they have been getting crowds of nearly 14,000 - and hit the road for the first time.
Spain and USA collide in Telefonica Arena Sports Hall in the Spanish capital in two games which may turn out to be pivotal in the final outcome of Pool C. The Spanish squad receives the U.S. after securing a 1-1 record last weekend against Bulgaria. Although the Spaniards seemed to recover some of their shine in the first match that led them to the European Championship, the tie-break defeat suffered in the second match moved them close to elimination from the Final Round. "Frankly speaking, we don't have a lot of options to qualify for Final Round,” said Spanish captain Miguel Angel Falasca. “We would need to win all the matches we have left, and wait for USA and Bulgaria to lose some or most of their matches, and this is very difficult.”
Spiker Olli Kunnari returns to the Finnish team which will face the strong Bulgarians in two matches in Tampere, Finland, this weekend. The 26-year-old Kunnari was one of the key players when Finland took fourth place in the European Championships in Moscow last September. Kunnari brings more stability to the reception of the Finns with his long experience from international matches. Captain and first setter Mikko Esko also returns after one weekend's absence. Second setter Simo-Pekka Olli has a knee injury and will not play. Finland have lost the first six matches this year. "Of course the losses are heavy for us although we knew the situation in advance. Now we just have to find the 'switch' which we turn to make things positive for the next six matches. We have a couple of new players coming to Tampere to join the team," says Italian Head Coach Mauro Berruto. In the last match between the two, Finland beat the Bulgarians 3-0 in the European Championships.
When Japan played against Egypt on the second weekend in Egypt, the team suffered two consecutive defeats. Japan is expected to use the home ground advantage to record two consecutive victories. Last week in Tokyo, Japan won in five sets against Poland, a silver medallist at World Championship in 2006, helped by power spikes from young southpaw Kunihiro Shimizu and sharp serves by Yu Koshikawa. Japan will play this weekend with the same players as last week.
Poland will enjoy their first home World League matches of the year when they host China at Spodek Hall in Katowice. There are set to be thousands of Polish fans cheering them on, aware that two victories will kickstart their campaign and allow them to potentially leapfrog over China and into first position in Pool D. China are coming off two impressive victories over Egpyt last week, though, and are in impressive form as they get ready to be the host team at the Olympic Volleyball Tournament.
The Final Round is now open for press accreditation applications, with the application form available on the official FIVB website at www.fivb.org
Television/Match of the Week
On Weekend 3, more than 60 different international satellite bookings and world feed participants proceeded for the 16 Intercontinental Round matches. That equals to average four international broadcasters broadcasting World League matches via satellite. The FIVB “Match of the Week” was broadcast by 14 television channels, for up to 500 million potential viewers (210 million TV homes), in more than 80 countries worldwide. The first three “Match of the Weeks” of the Intercontinental Round in this year’s World League were broadcast by up to 18 different TV channels.
The "Match of the Week," which is free for use by television channels, is available to the World League's valued Host Broadcasters and other TV channels on each weekend of Intercontinental Round action and amplifies the interest in the World League among TV viewers. TV channels interested in finding out about broadcasting a "Match of the Week" free of charge are requested to contact the FIVB at email@example.com for further information.
For all the latest news on the 2008 FIVB World League go to the official FIVB website at http://www.fivb.org/EN/Volleyball/Competitions/WorldLeague/2008/