Tokyo, Japan, May 29, 2008 - The race for the Beijing Games heated up Thursday with the arrival of the eight teams competing in the FIVB Men's World Olympic Qualification Tournament that starts Saturday at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Argentina, Italy, Algeria, Thailand, Australia, Iran, Korea and hosts Japan are the squads who will compete for the final two Olympic spots in Beijing. The dazzling Japanese capital will host the exciting event from May 31 to June 8. The winning team plus the best Asian team (even if the winner is Asian) will get the Olympic tickets after the seven matches.
The second of three Men's Olympic qualifiers takes place in Espinho, Portugal, from May 30 to June 1, with one team qualifying for Beijing from Portugal, Poland, Puerto Rico and Indonesia. Germany qualified from the first Men's Olympic qualifier last weekend.
The Tokyo tournament will feature four matches each day. On the first day, Australia will open the event facing Thailand at 11:05 local time. The â€œAussiesâ€ concluded their preparation tour with a battling victory over Olympic hosts China in Yongkang in Southeast China on Tuesday.
After losing two matches against the hosts 3-0 and 3-1, the Australians improved enough during the series to clinch victory in the final match in five sets.
Before their tour of China, the Australian team visited Argentina, playing five matches (the locals won four), Greece and Slovakia during a one-month trip.
They are buoyed by the welcome return of 2004 Olympian Zane Christensen (207 cm) after four years out of the sport through injury.
Thailand, a newly formed team including mostly young and inexperienced players, have also been training intensively for this event.
Following the opening match, Korea will play Argentina (13:05), Algeria faces Iran (15:05) and Japan receives Italy (18:00).
The Argentines arrived in Tokyo without star captain Marcos Milinkovic, who announced he would skip the event because of family commitments.
Wing spiker Guillermo Garcia also is not part of the group after failing to recover from an injury to his right shoulder.
The young South American team with their new captain Gustavo Porporatto recently played three friendly matches against USA in California, losing all of them but putting up a fight in the last one, which went to five sets.
In the middle of May, Argentina received a young Brazilian team and they tied the series 1-1.
Korea has participated in the Olympic Games eight times since 1964 and their best ranking was fifth place at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. This year, young players like Sung-Min Moon, who acquired valuable experience by taking part in international competitions in 2006 and 2007, will become an integral part of the team, while veteran players returning from injury will give the team balance.
Iran wants to be the great surprise of the tournament. They played three friendly matches in the Iranian capital against Serbia, already qualified for the Olympic Games in Beijing, losing them all. Iran also had two training camps in Moscow and Tehran.
Algeria have acclimatized in Dubai before heading to Japan. New Head Coach Samir Zitouni, who has big experience on the international stage as a player and trainer, will be leading the Algerians in this important tournament.
Italy is already training in Tokyo with Head Coach Andrea Anastasi. The â€œazzurriâ€ team led by captain Alberto Cisolla is one of the favourites of this tournament. Italians have attended every Olympic Games from 1976 onwards, winning two silver medals and one bronze.
Hosts Japan have great expectations for this qualifier. Head Coach Tatsuya Ueta's squad gathered in mid-April and launched the first training camp aimed at the Tokyo WOQT and the 2008 FIVB World League. Japan will certainly have strong support from the home crowd.
Meanwhile, the FIVB Control Committee (CC) and eventâ€™s National Operation Committee (NOC) are making inspections at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium competition hall, teamsâ€™ hotel, training halls and other facilities. The CC President and FIVB First Vice-President, Mr. Jizhong Wei, expressed his satisfaction with the tournament preparation. The General Technical Meeting will take place on Friday evening at 18:00 at the Tokyo Prince Hotel where the teams are staying.
After the General Technical Meeting on Friday at the Tokyo Prince Hotel, there will be a press conference with all eight coaches of the participating teams: Tatsuya Ueta (Japan), Samir Zitouni (Algeria), Jon Uriarte (Argentina), Andrea Anastasi (Italy), Russell Borgeaud (Australia), Zoran Gajic (Iran), Jung-Tak Yoo (Korea) and Monchai Supajirakul (Thailand).