World League preview: Deciding matches on week 6 schedule
Record winners Brazil, who look likely to make a historic early exit, do not play this weekend. After what captain Bruno Rezende called the “worst World League ever” to date, the team ranked number one in the world is currently bottom of pool A with just eleven points. They can only watch as Iran (13 points) and Poland (11 points) are set to pick up more points when they meet at the sold-out Azadi Sport Complex in Tehran on Friday and Sunday, even if Brazil's 3-0 victory in Poland last weekend means they still have a small chance of progressing to the final round.
"You can never write Brazil off," said Stephane Antiga, coach of World Championship hosts Poland. "Our goal is to get to the finals and we’ll continue to work on it. I hope some rest this week will help our players to find a bit of freshness and we’ll produce better volleyball against Iran."
Three teams from pool A will qualify for the final round of the FIVB World League. Italy, who are top of the group and who do not play this weekend either, are already looking ahead to the final round from July 16-20 in Florence, for which the hosts are confirmed as the first of six teams.
They will be joined by two teams from the other "super pool" B, in which the top two teams will do battle this weekend in Kaliningrad. The second game between hosts Russia (14 points) and pool leader USA (19) on Saturday at 18.00 is also the FIVB "Match of the week". The 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.
USA, ranked fourth in the world, suffered their first defeat (2-3 to Bulgaria) last weekend in their eighth game and final home match of this FIVB World League, after seven victories. In contrast, Olympic gold medalists Russia, who started badly, seem to be on the up after four successive victories. "We are determined to keep working and have more wins," said Russia's coach Andrey Voronkov. Two clear victories could see Russia take the lead in pool B.
In the second duel in this group, Serbia (11 points) host recently reinvigorated Bulgaria (4 points), who only have a theoretical chance of reaching the final round. Serbia, however, are desperate to make it to Florence. "We still have a chance to make it to the final six and we want to take it," said captain Dragan Stankovic.
The sixth and final team at the grand finale will be 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. Hosts Australia are the first definite participants, the second ticket will be allocated this weekend. The final match day in group D sees France (26 points) take on Argentina (23). France only need one victory from the two games. They also have home advantage on their side.
"We will try to beat France next week to reach the first place in the pool, but they are the best team in our group," said Argentina's coaching legend Julio Velasco cautiously. In comparison, France, who won their first two duels in Argentina, are brimming with confidence. "Our goal is to win the World League," said coach Laurent Tillie.
In pools C and E, the battles for group victory go into the penultimate round. In group C, leaders Belgium (17 points) and Canada (14) need to secure difficult away victories. Belgium head to Australia, while Canada make their way to Finland. Belgium's coach Dominique Baeyens said: "We are still leading in our group, but it will be very difficult to stay as the number one."
In the extremely even pool E, all the teams are still in with a chance of topping the group. Two clear victories on Friday and Saturday in Opava would see the Czech Republic (10 points) overtake surprise leaders Portugal (15 points). Even Korea (9 points), who are bottom of the table, are still in with a chance of taking first place ahead of their home games against the Netherlands (14) on Saturday and Sunday in Gwangju.
Victory in World League group 3, which includes the lowest ranked participants in the competition, will be decided on Saturday and Sunday in Bursa, Turkey. The semifinals on Saturday see runners-up Cuba take on China, while hosts Turkey do battle with Slovakia. The finals will then be held on Sunday.
"As hosts, Turkey are naturally the slight favourites," said Slovakia's coach Flavio Gulinelli. "But like the other three teams, we are proud to have made it to these finals. That's the icing on the cake."