World League 2014: New format creates buzz
After increasing the number of participating teams to 18 last year, the FIVB decided to go one step further in 2014 and introduce 10 more countries to this year’s edition of the World League. The competition is known for its intensive and exhilarating playing schedule, which tests the mettle of even the most experienced teams, and with this year’s format - seven pools of four teams - the competition was set to be more challenging than ever.
A look at the pool rankings going into the last week of the Intercontinental Round reveals how successful the new formula is proving to be. In Group 1, which includes the world’s highest ranked teams, pool action has once again demonstrated how the competition brings out the best in the teams involved. In Pool A, Iran have pulled out all the stops, moving ahead of powerhouses Italy, Brazil and Poland. USA currently lead pool B, ahead of title-holders Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria.
It is perhaps in Pools C, D and E, however, that the benefits of the new format are the most obvious to see. A look at the rankings of the teams in each pool shows what a great opportunity the new competition format has been for teams lower down the world rankings. Belgium (WR 37) currently top Pool C, ahead of Canada (WR 11), Finland (WR 30) and Australia (WR 14). In Pool D, France (WR 16) lead Argentina (WR 7), Germany (WR 10) and Japan (WR 17). In Pool E, the Netherlands (WR 31) are first, ahead of Portugal (WR 38), the Czech Republic (WR 22) and Korea (WR 21).
Although the Group 3 finals last weekend saw Cuba (WR 7) take gold, they were also a chance for two newcomers to the competition to shine. Turkey were making their first appearance and pushed the Cubans all the way in the final in Bursa, Turkey. Cuba eventually won the five-set thriller 3-2. The final for third place saw China take on Slovakia, another newcomer. Again, the more experienced team – China – were challenged by their opponents, who took the first set, even if China rebounded to claim a 3-1 victory.
There is also sure to be more excitement ahead. The final week of the Intercontinental Round will decide the lineup for the Group 2 Finals in Sydney, Australia, which will feature France, who have outplayed better ranked teams Argentina and Germany in Pool D. The Group 1 Finals in Florence, Italy, will also provide a fascinating contest, as the six teams which qualify will do so after some surprising Intercontinental Round results, including difficulties for Brazil (WR 1) and Poland (WR 5), currently third and fourth in Pool A. Title-holders Russia also opened their campaign with a run of four defeats in Pool B.
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