Russia on course for unique world hat-trick
Uberlandia, Brazil, October 4, 2013 - Russia start their inaugural Men's U23 World Championship campaign in Uberlandia, Brazil looking to complete an impressive unique hat-trick of underage titles.
After their U19 and U21 teams claimed victories earlier in 2013 at their respective world championships, Russia's U23 group can now complete a dominant sweep with another win in Brazil.
Russia's squad in Uberlandia is well-stocked with the experience of players, including captain Dmitry Kovalev, that claimed the 2011 U21 world title, also on Brazilian soil, in Rio de Janeiro.
Home team Brazil will be one of Russia's main obstacles, led by star wing spiker Lucarelli who was named of the best players in this year's World League Finals tournament in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and setter Thiago who captained Brazil's U21 team to silver beind Russia earlier this year.
In the pool stage Russia's biggest challenge is likely to come from Serbia who can count on the inclusion of opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic, who was Serbia's top scorer in the Intercontinental Round of this year's World League with 200 points.
Both representatives from Asia, Australia and Iran, are in pool B alongside Russia and Serbia and provide upset potential. Australia, in particular, will take confidence into the championship from a warm-up tournament win against Argentina.
The final pool B representatives are Venezuela, who are making a re-appearance at underage world championship level after 10 years, and Mexico who will start the tournament, taking on hot favourites Russia in the opening match on Sunday morning.
The other pool boasts the classic South American match-up between hosts Brazil and Argentina, who will be looking for strong performances from recent senior debutants wing spikers Agustin Ramonda and Ezequiel Palacios, and opposite Pablo Kukartsev.
Bulgaria could provide tough competition for both South American countries, with key players setter Dobromir Dimitrov and captain Nikolay Penchev both able to boast game time in this year's World League.
African representatives Egypt and Tunisia will try to improve on their last visit to Brazil for an underage world championship, when they were among the final positions at the 2011 U21 tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
The final team in pool A, the Dominican Republic, are appearing at an underage world championship for the first time since finishing 13th at both the U19 and U21 competitions 14 years ago in 1999.
Each team will play five pool matches before the final stage, where the pool winners and runners-up will meet in the semifinals, while the teams in pool positions third and fourth will play off against each other for final positions fifth to eighth.