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World League preview: Fightback begins for defending champions Russia in week four

Russia's Sergey Grankin, Artem Smoliar, and Taras Khtey defend against Matthew Anderson of the United States
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 11, 2014 - The first three spectacular weeks of the FIVB World League were full of surprises. Hosts of the final round Italy and dark horses France are the teams of the tournament so far, with six wins from six matches. Meanwhile, defending champions Russia are one of four of the tournament’s 28 teams yet to register a win.

The Olympic champions have their sights set on launching a mighty fightback in week four of the 25th anniversary tournament. Russia's games against Bulgaria, who are also winless, take place in Surgut on Saturday and Sunday and promise to be one of the many highlights this weekend, with a total of 32 matches scheduled.

"I think the qualification for the final round is still achievable. We do not despair. After all, the tournament has become a very interesting race for the Russian team," said Secretary General of the Russian Volleyball Federation, Alexander Yaremenko. "With their skills and personal qualities, our players can fulfil complicated objectives and acquire more confidence before the World Cup, which we expect to finally win."

Russia missed out on the final of the FIVB World League in 2012, but were crowned Olympic champions soon after. To make it into this year’s final six, they will probably have to win all eight of their remaining matches in the preliminary round of the FIVB World League. The USA and Serbia have opened their campaigns in pool B with four wins. However, at least one of these perfect records is set to fall when the pair meet in the group’s top encounter in Chicago on Friday and Saturday.

The second match between USA and Serbia, which kicks off at 19.00 on Saturday, is also the FIVB "Match of the week". Seven Matches of the Week will be distributed by IMG free of charge to all major international networks and the host broadcaster. The matches will include English commentary and will be shown live and on demand on FIVB Web TV.

Record winners Brazil also face difficulties in pool A, after winning just two of their six home matches. The Brazilians will play their remaining games away from home. First stop on Friday is Tehran, Iran, where a sold-out arena full of ecstatic fans awaits. Iran’s captain Mir Saied Marouflakrani said: "We will have thousands of people supporting us in Iran, but we must fight for every point to win again."

Brazil’s coach Bernardo Rezende sees the coming games as crucial to their campaign: "First in Iran and then in Poland, where we will face very tough games. We need to find the lost consistency. We have to find ways to grow together." His son and playmaker Bruno is calling upon his teammates to "show the fans that we are fighting and determined to defend our position at the top."

Italy are the undisputed leaders in group A, but face a very tough challenge in week four. The Italians, with their outstanding hitter Ivan Zaytsev, travel to Poland, who host this year's FIVB World Championship. Italy coach Mauro Berruto is already looking ahead to the final round of the World League, from July 16-20 in Florence, for which the hosts are already confirmed as the first of six teams: "We must go to Florence now and arrive there in the best possible condition."

The top two teams in ‘super pools’ A and B will qualify for the final round. They will be joined by the host nation Italy and the winner of a final round contested between teams from pools C, D and E on the weekend of July 11-13 in Sydney, Australia. Australia are guaranteed a place as hosts. France have played themselves into pole position in pool D and a further two wins against Germany on Friday and Sunday would go a long way towards securing their ticket.

In pool C, debutants Belgium (10 points) and Canada (7) are best placed to progress to the final round, and both teams go head to head in Vancouver on Friday and Saturday. Canadian captain Frederic Winters is looking forward to the challenge: "Belgium are the leaders in this group, but we have to win the next two games in Canada, even though we have never played in the hall in Vancouver before. I can only hope that our supporters are as good as the Belgian spectators were for their team." An equally interesting situation is developing in pool E, where all four of last weekend’s matches went to five sets. Leaders the Czech Republic (7 points) host the Netherlands (6 points) on Friday and Saturday.

Week four of the FIVB World League will definitely see outcomes reached in pools F and G. In pool F, where runners-up in the World Championship Cuba have won all three of their opening matches, the debutants from Tunisia have home advantage as they continue their search for a first win when they take on Turkey, Cuba and Mexico this weekend. Tunisian captain Caner Cicekoglu said: "Of course we want to win matches, as we’ll host this round." Kosice, Slovakia, hosts the action in pool G. With three wins under their belt, China are in the best position to progress to the finals. The Final Four for pools F and G will take place on the final weekend in June in Bursa, Turkey.


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