In Pool A, The Netherlands, fresh off a
confidence-boosting split with Olympic gold medalists and defending World
League champions the United States in Round 1, welcome China to the Omnisports
centre in Apeldoorn. China also sits at 1-1 in the competition following a
split with Italy in Verona on opening weekend, and Dutch coach Peter Blangé
expects a tough battle against a team they haven't faced since 2005. "I
saw this team play during the Olympics last year and it is quite obvious that
this country is the strongest Asian team. A few years ago, South Korea had that
leading position, but the roles are reversed again," Blangé said.
"China's play is based on speed and a really strong defense. But also with
their height and power the Chinese can compete at the highest level. Their play
is technically perfect and they have a broad selection of players, including
really tall players."
Team USA, meanwhile, visits Florence and Catania this
weekend for matches against the Azzurri. Both teams suffered heavy losses last
weekend and are eager to make up for it in this round. Despite the humbling
loss to China, Italian coach Andrea Anastasi says he will not alter his lineup
against the Americans.
In Pool B, South Korea host Serbia in Jeonju. Both teams
have 1-1 records following splits with fellow Pool B opponents France and
Argentina, who square off in Lyon and Nice. Korean fans were apprehensive about
the wholesale changes to their side ahead of the competition, but the young
team proved its worth last weekend against Argentina, and with Serbia possibly
using this weekend to rest some their star players, the home supporters are
hoping their team will top the table at the end of the weekend.
After flying to Korea last weekend, Argentina will have
to stave off further jet lag this weekend when they face France in Europe.
France will be without the services of Emmanuel Ragondet, who hurt his ankle in
Round 1 and will miss both matches this weekend. The French got off to a
brilliant start at the 20th edition of the World League with a straight-sets
victory over Serbia on opening day, but lost the rematch 3-1. They will be
looking for more consistency against what must be an exhausted Argentine team.
In Pool C, Russia and Cuba go head to head in Havana in a
battle of unbeaten teams at the tournament. Russia clobbered Japan on opening
weekend, while Cuba unexpectedly took both games from Bulgaria. Both Russia and
Cuba are in confident moods heading in to their matches on Friday and Saturday,
but the Cubans hope two things in particular will give them the edge over their
opponents: their vocal home fans and the return of local idol Michel Sanchez
after a serious injury kept him away from the sport for almost two years.
The two losing teams from opening weekend, Japan and
Bulgaria, will be looking to get their World League campaigns back on track in
matches in the Black Sea city of Varna. The hosts appear to have the upper hand
this weekend, having home-court advantage and history on their side: the last
time the team lost to Japan was in October 2002. Bulgarian captain Andrey
Zhekov said his team will be looking for a sweep this weekend. "We played
well, especially in the first match in Cuba, although the results did not show
it," he said. "We are now particularly motivated to win twice against
Japan, which is a must if we want to qualify for the Final Round."
In Pool D, Brazil is looking to remain unbeaten at the
tournament when it takes on Finland in matches on Friday and Saturday in
Brasilia. Brazil pounded Poland 3-0 and 3-1 on opening weekend, while Finland
bounced back impressively from a straight-sets loss to Venezuela to beat the
South Americans 3-1 in the rematch. While Brazil may welcome its captain, Giba,
and middle-blocker Rodrigao back into the fold this weekend, Finland will be
without main players Mikko Esko (setter), Tuomas Sammelvuo (wing spiker) and
Olli Kunnari (wing spiker).
"We can go to Brazil without pressure after winning
in Venezuela on Sunday," said Finland captain Jukka Lehtonen. "The
feeling on this young team is high at the moment and we are all waiting eagerly
to meet Brazil."
Poland, meanwhile, traveled from Brazil to Venezuela for
its next set of matches against a South American side. Poland will hope things
go better for them this weekend, following two forgettable losses to Brazil on
opening weekend. Poland enjoys a 6-2 advantage against Venezuela historically
at the tournament, but Venezuela has been working on its fitness since Monday
and promises to be in peak condition by game time on Friday.
"We are in the process of obtaining better physical
endurance, and when we achieve it, I am sure that the victories will come and
we will be very satisfied in this league," said Venezuela captain Andy