Upbeat Volleyroos host World League Group 2 Finals
Hosts Australia, favourites France, Belgium and the Netherlands will go head to head for the final ticket to the Group 1 Finals, held in Florence from July 16-20. The Group 2 Finals winner will join hosts Italy, Olympic gold medalists and defending champions Russia, record winners Brazil, the USA and surprise package Iran, who have already qualified.
Even before the start of this year’s record-breaking FIVB Volleyball World League, FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F° had warned fans to expect surprises in a competition "which has been redesigned to offer more challenges to the experienced teams and more opportunities for teams making their debut." These words are the perfect preview to this weekend’s Group 2 finals, which are making their first appearance in this record-breaking season. FIVB World League debutants Belgium and the returning Australians (second appearance after 1999) will provide a stern test for the more-experienced teams from France (19 appearances) and the Netherlands (18th appearance).
The final round takes place at an iconic location – the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre. This area hosted the Olympic Games in 2000, and the final round of the FIVB World League is another major event at the venue. Volleyball Australia President Craig Carracher said: "We cannot underestimate the significance of Australia competing in and hosting the World League Finals for the development and growth of the game in Australia. I would like to thank the FIVB for their support of Volleyball Australia in once again bringing international matches to our shores."
The first semi-final at 17.30 local time on Friday is a duel between the newcomers from Belgium (WR 37) and the favoured French (WR 16), whose best result in the FIVB World League came in the form of second place in 2006. "Les Bleus" and their top scorer Antonin Rouzier had last weekend off, allowing them to prepare perfectly for the final round "Down Under". "We now have two games to win in Australia. And our goal is to win the World League," said French coach Laurent Tillie, making his intentions perfectly clear.
For Belgium, who finished ahead of last year’s surprise team Canada in the preliminary round, simply making the Group 2 Finals is a great success. "It’s a big achievement for our team. Now we try to do even more," said Dominique Baeyens. "However, we have done a lot of traveling recently." His team, which features top scorer Sam Deroo, played in Australia before its final preliminary round matches in Finland – and comfortably won both games against the hosts.
However, the "Volleyroos" (WR 14) have grown again as a team since. Proof of this came on the final weekend of the preliminary round, when the hosts twice defeated Canada. That has given them a lot of confidence going into the semi-final against the Netherlands (WR 31) at 20.00 on Friday. Australian captain Aidan Zingel: "We took a big step in winning the second match, which is going to be crucial for next weekend. It gives us great confidence for next weekend."
Australia’s coach Jon Uriarte is also confident that his team can achieve great things at the weekend: "It's so important that after going through such a demanding process for us, the team has been challenged every day in this World League. I'm 100 per cent confident we can match it with the other teams in the finals."
However, their first opponents at the finals – the Netherlands – are a team with a big past, taking their first steps towards a big future. Netherlands captain Dick Kooy: "We have a young, talented group, and we reached our goal. I am really looking forward to playing in Australia." Netherlands coach Edwin Benne added: "I am happy about our performance in previous weeks, we are playing better and steadier each week. Still, Australia will be quite a challenge."
The Netherlands won the FIVB World League in 1996 – and reaching the Group 2 Finals is a sure sign that they are finally back on the up.