17 teams secure tickets to Women's World Championship as Drawing of Lots approaches
To date, 17 of the 24 tickets to the highlight of the season have already been snapped up, with Tunisia becoming the first African team to qualify this past weekend. The outsiders defeated the hosts and eight-time African champions Kenya 3-2 in the decisive game of the qualifying tournament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Since the turn of the year, a further eight teams have now earned their tickets to the tournament, which will take place from September 23 to October 12 in Italy. Before Tunisia’s efforts, seven European teams had come through their qualifying tournaments on the first weekend of 2014: the winners of the five third-round qualifying tournaments – Turkey, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, and Bulgaria – and the top two second-placed teams Serbia and the Netherlands. They joined hosts Italy, defending champions Russia and Germany from Europe, Brazil and Argentina from South America, and Japan, China, Thailand and Kazakhstan from Asia.
The 18th team to qualify will be known by the time the lots are drawn for the season highlight on March 10 in Parma. From February 23 to March 1, hosts Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo will battle for the second African ticket. The destination of the remaining six tickets will be determined after the drawing of lots. The five qualifying tournaments in the NORCECA confederation (each with four teams) will be played in May with hosts Cuba (May 5 to 11), USA, Canada, Dominican Republic (all from May 13 to 19) and Puerto Rico (May 20 to 26). The winner of each group will qualify for the World Championship, while the group runners-up go through to a play-off for the final place with six teams from June 2 to 9 in Trinidad.
A record number of 141 countries took part in the qualifying process for the World Championship – a big increase on the 101 that battled for a ticket to the finals in 2010. And a number of big-name teams have already come up short. Despite having home advantage at the qualifying tournament in Lodz, Poland, centred around star Malgorzata Glinka-Mogentale, surprisingly failed to qualify. The hosts were well beaten by 2013 European bronze medallists Belgium 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 27-25). This result gave Belgium the top spot in Pool K and automatic qualification to the Final Round of the 2014 World Championship.
The Poles were reduced to tears. “We were very nervous,” said Polish captain Malgorzata Glinka-Mogentale after the game. “But we are professionals, so we cannot blame this loss on nerves. We should have played better.” The head coach of Belgium Gert Vande Broek commented: “The level of this match was very high, but the pressure of the crowd was on them and it helped us a lot. We deserved the qualification.”
The first round of the event will now be drawn at the upcoming drawing of lots on March 10. The 24 teams will be divided into four pools of six teams, which will be a round-robin system over five days – three matches per day - with four cities (Rome, Trieste, Bari and Verona) hosting a pool each.
The top four teams of each pool will advance to the second round (in Bari, Trieste, Verona and Modena), where the 16 teams will be split into two pools of eight (top four teams of Pool A and D will play in Pool E, top four of Pool B and Pool C will play in Pool F), with the top three of each pool advancing to the third round.
The top three teams from the two second-round pools will advance to the third round with the winners, placed in each pool, while the second and third will be drawn. The third and final round will consist of a round-robin system, with the top two teams of each pool advancing to the semi-finals before the final takes place in Milan on October 12.
Russia’s female volleyball stars have their reputation as the most successful nation in the history of the World Championship to defend: together with Russia’s predecessor – the Soviet Union – they have won a total seven titles. Cuba and Japan have both triumphed on three occasions, China twice, and World Championship hosts Italy once (2002).
Olympic gold, victory at the FIVB World Grand Prix, and success in the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup: Brazil’s volleyball ladies have won every title on offer of late. As such, it is almost impossible to believe that the skilful South Americans are still waiting for their first ever World Championship title.
“After the dream year we experienced in 2013, it goes without saying that we will be striving to finally get our hands on this title,” said Brazil’s successful coach Ze Roberto. However, a glance at the history of the World Championship reveals exactly why Ze Roberto is wary of the threat posed by one team in particular: defending champions Russia.
The Russian giants defeated Brazil in the final to win the World Championship title in 2006 and 2010, meaning the Brazilians’ three silver medals (including 1994) remain their greatest success to date in the World Championship. “Russia is difficult every time. They are very talented. They have not had all their top players on board recently, however,” was Ze Roberto’s assessment of his arch-rivals.
Italy will host the women’s championship for the first time ever. As one of volleyball’s strongest and proudest nations, the best of women’s volleyball will have a wonderful stage to perform on, especially after an outstanding standard was set during the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in 2010. A total of six cities - Rome, Trieste, Verona, Bari, Modena, and Milan - will host the FIVB’s premier tournament for women.
Not quite the 10 cities from 2010 but some of the six cities are well known as historic volleyball venues at Italian club level, especially the host of the finals – Milan. Italy has hosted many women’s competitions in the past - the FIVB Junior World Championships in 1985, four European Championships (1971, 1991, 1999 and 2011) and three finals of the FIVB Grand Prix (2003, 2004, 2006) - but it is the first time for the FIVB Women’s World Championship. The drawing of lots in Parma promises to provide a wonderful starting signal for this historic event.