Lausanne, July 15, 2009 - The final Intercontinental
Round weekend of the 2009 FIVB World League has arrived, with four spots still
available for the Final Round in Belgrade from July 22-26.
Brazil, at 9-1, became the first team to qualify for the
Final Six, joining Pool B leaders Serbia, which received a bye to the Belgrade
tournament as hosts.
The top teams from Pools A, B and C will be determined in
Round 6, as will the wild card berth for the strongest second-place finisher.
In Pool A, leaders the United States are in the driver's
seat, 4 points ahead of Italy. The U.S. host the third-place Dutch in Kansas,
knowing a single win will put them into the Final Round. It's a position U.S.
coach Alan Knipe says he enjoys being in.
"What you want (in the last weekend of World League)
is to have something to play for and have it in your control," Knipe said.
"Our job is to take care of the things we can control."
Italy knows it can still finish first with wins in China
and favorable results in Kansas, and will likely come out firing on all
cylinders this weekend. China may already be eliminated from the Final Round
but the players have gained a lot of confidence at the tournament and are
expected to make life difficult on the Azzurri.
In Pool B, all eyes will be on France and Argentina in
San Juan on Thursday and Friday, as only one point separates the teams with two
matches to play. As leaders Serbia have already qualified for the Final Round
with a bye as host, France and Argentina only have to worry about each other.
San Juan is abuzz with excitement and San Juan Aldo Cantoni Stadium is expected
to be filled to the rafters for these two do-or-die matches.
Serbia, meanwhile, hosts last-place Korea in a
dead-rubber series that will act as a warm-up for the hosts ahead of the Final
Six in Belgrade.
"This will be a good opportunity for us to prepare
our team for the upcoming final tournament," said Serbia coach Igor
Kolakovic. "It will be very difficult to win both matches, even though our
opponents are currently at the bottom of the standings. But, for sure, it would
be very nice if we could get two victories and secure the first spot."
In Pool C, what started as a two-horse race has become a
three-horse race thanks to the much-improved play of Bulgaria in recent rounds.
The Bulgarians swept first-place Cuba last weekend to move within two points of
second-place Russia and five off the top spot.
Cuba is considered the favorite to win the Pool, as the
team hosts last-place Japan on Friday and Saturday, while Russia travels to
Bulgaria for what promises to be two hard-fought encounters.
Cuba overcame Japan twice in Tokyo earlier at the
tournament, but Japan beat Russia once and Bulgaria twice, so the Cubans aren't
taking anything for granted.
"I think with a bit more effort Japan could become a
strong team," said Cuban captain Roberlandy Simon. "They are really
quick and good at defense. They are tough opponents."
In Pool D, with Brazil having already qualified for the
Final Round after a commanding 9-1 showing so far at the tournament, the only
chance for second-place Finland and third-place Poland to advance to Belgrade
will be to finish as runners-up in the Pool and hope they win the FIVB wild
card as strongest second-place finisher in the Intercontinental Round.
Finland took a big step toward achieving that goal last
weekend, when they rolled over Poland in Tampere. Poland will have to return
the favor in Round 6 to stand any chance of overtaking the Finns, who sit six
points above them in the standings.
"To beat them, we'll have to fight hard for every
single point," Poland coach Daniel Castellani said. "They won't give
us any presents. We'll have to snatch the victory from them. It won't be
possible if we don't improve our game. Our main problem is that we still make
too many simple mistakes."