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Women's VNL, Pool 1: How will Italy make their entry this year?

Italy celebrate during the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League
Lausanne, Switzerland, April 25, 2019 - The 2019 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League opens on May 21 with the 16 teams distributed in four pools scattered across the world to set the wheels in motion.

If they come in at full strength, then Italy would be the obvious favourite to top this opening week pool in Opole, where Poland also host Germany and Thailand, May 21-23.

But an opening week in any competition is always tricky and for the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship silver medallists, more than any of the other three participants, it begins close to the end of the club season in Europe. The all-Italian Champions League final in Berlin, featuring a host of international players, is just three days before the start of the VNL.

So it will be interesting to see how coach Davide Mazzanti manages his resources and what kind of team he lines up in Opole on May 21.

Last year Italy, one of the youngest national teams out there, opened the VNL with three defeats (including a five-setter to Poland) and played catchup for the remainder of the tournament, narrowly missing out on the Final Six.

Louisa Lippmann tries to beat the block of Chatchu-On Moksri and Pleumjit Thinkaow as Germany downs Thailand in very dramatic fashion at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Of the other three sides in the Opole pool, Poland still need to prove themselves, as they gradually begin to build up for the 2022 FIVB World Championship which they will be co-hosting (alongside the Netherlands).

Poland finished 9th in last year's VNL - and had already failed to make it through to the World Championship - so that leaves them on a bit of a shaky ground.

The third European entrants of the Opole pool, Germany, are also in need to establish themselves. With 11th-place finishes in both the 2018 VNL and World Championship and under normal circumstances they would face an uphill battle against their opponents in Opole.

But these are not ordinary times and, in addition, their 35-year-old coach Felix Koslowski is planning to test some new players and see how they can "move up and prove themselves" - another reference point to look out for in the opening week.

Thailand's Pornpun Guedpard sets the ball as Pimpichaya Kokram comes in from the right for the kill against Poland in the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

And then there's Thailand. Always in the shadow of the other Asian powerhouses of China and Japan, but also always ready to catch any opponent off-guard and shake things up in any competition.

Thailand finished second to last in the 2018 VNL with just two wins in 15 games - but one of those was against Poland (in five sets in what was the longest match of the 2018 VNL), whom they clash with again in Opole. Can they cause damage to Poland (or anyone else, for that matter) for a second year running? We'll just have to wait and see.

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