Five teams make their debuts as record-breaking FIVB World Grand Prix gets underway
From July 25 to August 24, a record 28 teams will compete for the crown in the most important event in the run-up to the FIVB Women’s World Championship. Favourites are undoubtedly defending champions, record winners and Olympic champions Brazil - however, their opposition is hungry for honours. With the top favourites not entering the fray until week two, the initial focus is on the other teams at the FIVB World Grand Prix.
The performances of the competition’s five debutants will be followed with particular attention. Kenya are set to become only the second African team in the history of the competition, one year after Algeria’s debut. Belgium, Croatia, Mexico and Australia will also be making their first appearances in the FIVB World Grand Prix. They take the total number of countries represented in the annual meeting of the world’s top national teams to 30 since the competition was introduced in 1993. With the exception of Belgium, all four debutants will play in Group 3, which features the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament.
Croatia (World Rank 24) have the honour of opening the tournament: the three-time silver medalists at the European Championships meet the Czech Republic (WR 25) in Pool P. The match will take place at 09.00 GMT on July 25 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Also in this group are hosts Kazakhstan and newcomers Australia. Debutants Mexico can look forward to home advantage in week one: they take on Group favourites Bulgaria, Algeria and debutants Kenya at the Mexico Olympic Gymnasium Juan de la Barrera.
According to Volleyball Federation First Vice Chairman Martin Makokha, the Kenyan government has done everything in its power to make success a possibility: “The federation would like to take this earliest opportunity to thank the Government for allowing the national team to train in the indoor arena.” The goal is clear: Kenya is out to surprise the world. Makokha said: “We want to convince the FIVB that Kenya deserves a permanent slot in the Grand Prix Championships and the only way to do so is by returning better results.” Over the course of two preliminary round weekends, four of the eight teams in Group 3 will qualify for the Final Four, which will be held in Samokov, Bulgaria on August 16 and 17.
Also making their debut in the FIVB World Grand Prix are the ladies from Belgium, who have their sights on mixing it with the bigger teams from the word go. The European bronze medalists prepared for their big outing at the 2014 China Women’s International Tournament, where they produced an impressive display. Their only loss was a 3-1 defeat against one of the Grand Prix favourites, China, and the Belgian women scored two emphatic 3-0 victories against the traditionally strong teams from the Dominican Republic and Thailand.
Belgium’s first match at the FIVB World Grand Prix throws them up against Poland at the tournament in Lima, Peru, on Friday. Both teams played each other in the qualifying tournament for the FIVB Women’s World Championship, with Belgium emerging victorious 3-0 to secure their ticket. This preliminary round tournament also features two teams making their return in the FIVB World Grand Prix: Canada (whose most recent appearance came in 2003) and Peru (2011).
At the other preliminary round tournament, for the Group 2 teams, hosts Puerto Rico face Argentina and two former Grand Prix winners in Carolina. The Netherlands (winner 2007) and Cuba (winner 1993 and 2000) meet in the opening match on Friday. The eight Group 2 teams will determine the four participants for the Final Four on August 15 and 16 in Koszalin, Poland, over the course of three preliminary round weekends. The winner of this tournament receives a ticket to the Grand Finale from August 20-24 at the 10,000 capacity Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo. Hosts Japan already have their ticket for the tournament, which features the top six teams in the FIVB World Grand Prix. They will be joined by the best four teams from Group 1.
The Group 1 preliminary round will see the twelve highest-seeded teams – defending champions and world No. 1 Brazil, USA, Japan, China, Russia, Italy, Serbia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Korea, Turkey and Thailand – play round-robin tournaments (each with four teams) on three weekends to determine which four countries will progress to the final round. The top 12, however, only join the action in week two.