Lausanne, Switzerland, August 31, 2012 – Playing at home and looking to build on their storied history in international volleyball, the Dutch men’s team are hoping to return to the World League for the first time since 2010 when they take on Portugal in a two-game playoff on Saturday and Sunday.
After beating the Dominican Republic last weekend, the Netherlands need to beat Portugal across the two matches to play in the FIVB’s premier annual men’s competition for the 17th time. There have been a total of 23 editions of the FIVB World League.
Meanwhile, Portugal, ranked 38th in the world, will be out to defend their World League spot which they have held over the past two years. Their 16th place finish this year meant they had to enter the playoff system and considering they beat the Netherlands 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-18) in 2010 in pool play of the 2011 European Championships, they would fancy their chances.
At FIVB level, Portugal, who has played a total of nine times in the FIVB World League, has yet to take a set from the Netherlands, who are ranked 41st in the FIVB world rankings, having suffered defeats in the 2010 World Championship qualifiers in Varna, Bulgaria and the 1956 World Championships in Paris, France however at European level Portugal are undefeated having won in straight sets at the 1948 and 1951 European Championships as well as 3-1 in the European Championships again to add to their victory last year.
The Portuguese team is in the midst of a rebuilding phase at the moment, following the retirement of several high-profile veterans and the arrival of a new coach, Flavio Gulinelli but injured star Carlos Fidalgo, who has played against and with many of the Dutch players but is missing from this weekend’s action due to injury, still believes Portugal has what it takes to defend their World League place.
“The Netherlands is, much like us, going through a phase of renewal,” Fidalgo said earlier this week. “They have some experienced players, great quality, as we know well. But the coaching staff has now added three or four young men with great talent who are very promising, such as the setter Abdelaziz, against whom I had the opportunity to play. I think they have a very balanced team. I argue that we should play our characteristic game, and not change the way we play too much. We are aware that the Dutch play well, because we know the team well, but I think we have a good chance of getting the spot in the World League. In this type of playoff, played over two games, the first clash is always extremely important, because it allows one to gain some confidence for the second game.”
The Dutch are themselves hoping for a restart. They sat out World League 2011 and 2012 after enduring a disappointing year in 2010. Coach Edwin Benne has decided that they are now ready to make their presence felt again and recover some of the lustre Dutch teams have enjoyed in the past. They are off to a good start, having already won the European League in 2012.
The other two teams battling for a berth in World League 2013 are Egypt and Iran. On paper, at least, it would be hard to find a more evenly-matched pair to set against each other for a two-game playoff. Egypt is currently 13th in the FIVB world rankings. Iran is 14th. Since 2009 the teams have played each other three times, with a 2-1 advantage in their head-to-heads going to Iran on the strength of a close five-set victory in the 2009 Grand Champions Cup.
The Iranian team travelled extensively in the weeks leading up to their meeting with Egypt, getting used to playing away from home before flying to Cairo to face both a strong team and a partisan crowd.
“The Egyptian team has an intangible quality – even when they’re in a poor situation, their players do not give up their spirit and they play like champions,” said Iran coach Julio Vasquez. “It is true that there was political change in their country, but we should not forget that we are now playing against a new Egyptian team. Those players are stepping onto the court to show everyone the new Egypt. Also, Egypt are a naturally good team. They play good volleyball, and we will have to be even better to win against them.”
Egypt’s new coach, Hossam Abdel Aziz, took responsibility for the squad after the World Olympic Qualifier in Sofia, Bulgaria, last June. His main concern is that, since that qualifier, the Egyptian team hasn’t been able to play any friendly matches.
“We worked very hard in the last three weeks to get the team into top performance shape before the first match against Iran,” said Abdel-Aziz. “We’ve been depending on tactical matches between our own players to make up for lack of friendly matches. We also followed the Iranian team’s last matches to study their players – especially their last match against Egypt in the 2011 World Cup.”
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