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Preview 2014 - World League 25th anniversary heralds a new era

After expanding to a record 18 teams in 2013, the World League will feature 28 this year

Lausanne, Switzerland, January 1, 2014 – Defending champions Russia and 27 challengers: the FIVB Volleyball World League heralds a new era in 2014. The unique competition, which features the world’s top volleyball teams and has been thrilling fans around the world since 1990, will be bigger than ever for its 25th anniversary. Rather than the previous record of 18 nations in 2013, 28 teams will  line up in this year’s event.

Olympic champions Russia will have a revolutionary new format to cope with when they begin the defence of their title against a pack of challengers led by Grand Champions Cup winners Brazil. Over the eight weeks from the start of the Intercontinental Round on 23rd May to the grand finale on 20th July, the World League will form the overture to a year of fantastic competition showcasing the best national teams in the world, with the highlights being the World Championships for men and women.

“The future is today and we are doing something different. This is a new era and I would like to congratulate the new countries involved, who now have an opportunity to play on the world stage,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°, referring to the pioneering concept. Five countries will be making their debut in the competition, which sees the world’s top teams go head to head: Belgium, Slovakia, Tunisia, Turkey and Mexico. They bring the total number of countries to have played in the elite competition to 31. The newcomers are joined by five prominent teams making their return. Australia have made just one previous appearance back in 1999, while the Czech Republic and Puerto Rico’s only outings to date came in 2003 and 2011 respectively. Spain (most recent appearance in 2008) and China (2010) also make their comeback. The field is completed by the 18 countries that lined up in 2013. Incidentally, only Brazil and Italy – the two most successful countries in the history of the competition – have played in all 24 previous World Leagues.

As such, the field at this year’s World League includes all seven former winners: Brazil (nine titles), Italy (eight), defending champions Russia (three), Poland, Cuba, the USA and the Netherlands (one win each). The favourites to lift the trophy are clear for all to see – everything points towards another duel between the Russian giants, with their 2.18-metre man Dmitry Muserskiy, and the ball wizards and record winners of Brazil, who include playmaker and coach’s son Bruno Rezende in their strong squad. Russia came out on top at the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2013 World League – with a commanding 3:0 victory in the final. Brazil hit back to win the Grand Champions Cup, although they did lose the match against their arch-rivals once again.

“The strength of the group and not the skills of one player or the other is what makes the difference for Brazil. This way we keep winning and I hope we will also continue to do so in the coming years,” said Brazil’s star coach Bernardo Rezende. Among the other teams fancied to do well are the rejuvenated Italians and their attacker Ivan Zaytsev, who was top scorer in the 2013 Intercontinental Round with 215 points. Teams like World Championship hosts and 2012 World League winners Poland and Iran, one of the rising forces in world volleyball, could also be good bets for a shock.

However, Italy, Poland and Iran will all come up against record winners Brazil in pool A, which kicks off on 30th May. Pool B starts on 23rd May and sees defending champions Russia take on 2012 silver medallists USA, 2013 fourth-placed team Bulgaria and four-time runner’s up Serbia. The top two teams in both these ‘super pools’ will qualify for the final round from 16th to 20th July. They will be joined by the host nation – yet to be determined – and the winner of a final round contested between teams from pools C, D and E from 4th to 6th July. This format is completely new. During the Intercontinental Round, pools A to E will play double home and away matches, making a total of 12 matches per team.

Pool C features first time participants Belgium along with Canada, Australia and Finland, while Argentina, Germany, France and Japan are in pool D. Pool E sees the Netherlands, Korea, the Czech Republic and Portugal go head to head. As well as Cuba, who find themselves in a phase of rebuilding, pools F and G also include the teams lower down the world rankings. Cuba are joined in pool F by debutants Tunisia, Turkey and Mexico. Pool G sees Slovakia, Puerto Rico, China and Spain. Both pools will play two stand-alone tournaments per pool involving the four teams in the pool. The Final Four for pools F & G is expected to take place from 27th to 29th June.

The story of the World League is one of spectacular development. Eight countries lined up in two groups of four in the inaugural competition in 1990. In 1991 the number of teams had risen to 10, with 12 nations competing from 1992-2000 and 2004-05. The field featured 16 teams from 2001-2003 and 2006-2012. 2013’s competition included 18 different countries, but even that is eclipsed by the 28 teams lining up in 2014.

Last year, Russia secured the title the 8000-seater Islas Malvina Hall in Mar del Plata in the final against Brazil. The host broadcaster showed fantastic images of the final round in countries all around the globe. TV broadcasts of the World League again reached new markets. All 100 matches were produced and broadcast live and reached more than 500 million households worldwide, whilst the FIVB live streaming on the Internet was in demand among fans in an ever-increasing number of countries. No wonder: after all, the FIVB-organised event, which offered $5.7m in prize money in 2013, is synonymous with fantastic sport and a spectacular show.

The success story witnessed since 1990 is evidence of the ingenuity of the idea to introduce a global competition between the best volleyball teams in the world. And the story continues this year with new records – 2014 is set to provide an especially thrilling and historic 25th chapter.

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