Lausanne, July 10, 2008 - It is still all to play for as the 2008 FIVB World League Intercontinental Round enters its fifth weekend. France, Russia, USA and Poland are the teams sitting pretty in the qualifying spots for the Final Round but there could be wholesale changes in the standings by the end of Sunday.
The fans continue to flock to watch the world's best Volleyball players competing for more than USD 20 million in Prize Money in FIVB's flagship annual Men's competition. More than 20,000 fans saw Serbia and Brazil share the spoils in Belgrade and Novi Sad last week, while 22,240 fans cheered on Poland in Katowice as their team notched two victories over the Chinese.
Indeed, Serbia's dramatic five-set victory over Brazil last Sunday opened up Pool A. Brazil, with a 6-2 win-loss record, lead the pool ahead of France (6-2), with Serbia (3-5) needing to secure two wins at home to Venezuela this weekend to keep their Final Round hopes alive. Olympic and FIVB World Champions Brazil, looking for their sixth-straight World League triumph, host France in Belo Horizonte. 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) advances to the Final Round.
Also during this upcoming weekend, there is a clash of the titans in Kazan as Russia (7-1) host eight-time winners Italy (6-2) in Pool B, with Korea (0-8) welcoming Cuba (3-5) in the other pool match. In Pool C, USA (7-1) play in Bloomington against European champions Spain (3-5) and Bulgaria (5-3) host Finland (1-7) in Varna. The FIVB "Match of the Week," free-to-air for all television broadcasters, sees Poland (5-3) host Japan (4-4) in Pool D on Saturday, July 12, in Lodz at 18:00 GMT (20:00 local time), the day after their first match. Egypt (3-5), meanwhile, plays China (4-4) in Cairo.
The Brazilian team returns home after a three-week tour around France, Venezuela and Serbia, where they achieved a 4-2 record. The Brazilians and French have faced each other 16 times in the World League, and the South Americans have won 13 of these matches. The French were runners-up in the 2006 FIVB World League, defeated by Brazil in the final match. In this season's matches, there is a single win for each side from the two matches played in Paris on the second weekend. "France has a defense-based way of playing, very similar to Brazil. They played very well in the two matches in Paris. As they are not going to Beijing, the World League is the most important competition of the season to them. France has a young but talented team, while Brazil is finishing its preparation for the Finals and Beijing Games. I expect two hard matches in Belo Horizonte," said Brazilian Head Coach Bernardo Resende, who can probably count on the return of wing-spiker Giba, recovered from an ankle injury.
Serbia Head Coach Igor Kolakovic said his team are not taking Venezuela lightly this weekend. "Venezuela warned us on their turf that they were not qualified for the Olympic Games just by chance. Venezuela belongs to the group of teams aspiring for affirmation and we are aware that it will not be an easy task to reach the wanted victory, as some may be thinking. We must express all our qualities and impose our game from the very beginning of the match with maximum effort." Serbia and Venezuela played their first matches on the second weekend and the score was 1-1. Serbia have played 160 matches since it started participating in the World League and won 97 times. If Serbia secure two victories against Venezuela, they would have the opportunity for their 100th World League victory against France the following weekend.
Russia sit in top place but have Italy breathing down their necks as they compete for a place in the Final Round. Russia and Italy shared the spoils the last time they met, each team winning 3-1 and the Italians sit second in the standings. If Russia win both matches against Italy this weekend they will qualify for the Final Round of the World League and Italy will have to battle for the second place which may lead to a berth in the Final Round via the FIVB wild card.
Both the Korean and Cuban players are suffering from jet-lag after an exhausting schedule over the last few weeks. Korea flew back from Italy after losing both matches in their World League tie, while Cuba arrived in Korea after losing twice to Russia. The Koreans performed well against the Italians last weekend, both times getting close to beating the mighty "Azzurri." Head Coach Chi-Yong Shin will put three substitute players, Sun-Kyu Lee, Kyoung-Min Ha and Sang-Ha Park, back on court after they stayed in Korea after the first and second weekends.
Going into Friday's and Saturday's matches against Spain in Bloomington, Ill., all USA have to do is win three of their final four contests to assure pool victory. But winning is far easier said than done, even though the U.S. defeated Spain twice last weekend in Madrid. "Spain is a very good team. They run a very fast offense and they are a pretty well-rounded group," USA Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon said. The U.S. Men looked like two different teams in Madrid. On Friday (July 4), they struggled, particularly with serving, and allowed Spain to run its system, which depends on good passes. After winning the first two sets, the United States dropped the second two and barely pulled out the victory. After some rest on the off day on Saturday, Team USA regrouped to take a 25-19, 25-19, 25-23 victory on Sunday.
Bulgaria are bolstered by the return of experienced players Plamen Konstantinov, Vladimir Nikolov, Matey Kaziyski and Evgeni Ivanov and Nikolay Nikolov, who has been injured since the start of the FIVB World League, for the match against Finland. Head Coach Martin Stoev also returns after Vladislav Todorov's turn at the wheel. Stoev is pleased with the promise of having some of his best and most popular players returning. "I will put them all into the roster, but we will see if they are totally ready to play," said Stoev. "Some of them will be on the court by any means. We have to keep our chances to win this pool and, of course, to defend the name we have built for Bulgarian Volleyball in the past years."
Poland rests captain Piotr Gruszka against Japan but Krzysztof Gierczynski, who was resting last week during the matches against China, is back to compensate. Two other players will not play against Japan: Pawel Woicki, who is getting married on Saturday, and his best man, Marcin Wika. The Japan National Team arrived in Lodz Wednesday night. The team received an especially warm welcome at Warsaw Okecie airport, where they were greeted by a group of Japanese fans who live in Poland. Unfortunately, the team's Head Coach Tatsuya Ueta wasn't there to see it. He had to stay in Japan, due to a health problem and will be absent for both matches.
Egypt host China at the Police Union Hall in Cairo, Egypt, that has a capacity for 7,000 spectators. Egypt Head Coach Ahmed Zakaria will replace the middle blocker Hossam Shaarawy with Ahmed Mosaad, who played the first weekend against Poland. Zakaria has made a special training program for team captain Hamdy El Safi, who missed the third weekend with a family problem, and also for players suffering injuries such as right attacker Ahmed Salah, ranked third in the overall competition for Best Scorers, and wing spiker Mohamed Abdel Moneim. "We are sad to lose four consecutive matches away against China and Japan and we hope that all our stars regain their performance home against China with the usual support of our spectators like they did in the first and second weekends in Alexandria when we won three out of four matches," said Zakaria. The Chinese are in Egypt with all the main stars, led by strong attacker Zhi Yuan, who leads the competition's Best Scorers with 174 points.
Television/Match of the Week
The fourth FIVB Match of the Week between Serbia and Brazil in Novi Sad on Sunday, July 6, was broadcast to more than 70 countries worldwide by 15 television channels with up to 350 million potential viewers.
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.
The Final Round is now open for press accreditation applications, with the application form available on the official FIVB website at www.fivb.org
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/