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Men's VNL – Who are your breakout teams in 2019?

2018 VNL MVP Maxim Mikhaylov spikes against Brazil in the inaugural edition of the competition last year
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 24, 2019 – One week into the second edition of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, and seven days ahead of the men's teams taking to the courts in China, Argentina, Poland and Serbia, editors Anna Tomas, Constantine Dimaras and Nikolay Markov let us know who they think might do well in this year's men's competition. Join the conversation and have your say on this year's favourites on the FIVB’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Watch all the action live on Volleyball TV.

Nikolay Markov
A Bulgaria-based volleyball, beach volleyball and snow volleyball journalist, Nikolay Markov is an editor since 2012. In 2008 he founded and later worked at the CEV and the BFV. Since 2011 he has been in charge of media communications at VC Maritza Plovdiv. He played some volleyball at college level in the United States and at amateur level in Bulgaria.

France’s stellar line-up, with top-level players in all positions, are my favourites to win the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Last year they fell short of making the top of the podium after losing the gold medal match to Russia at home, in Lille, and owe it to their fans. Free from the pressure of playing at home and additionally motivated to make up for missing out in 2018, the French team has all it takes to win the title in this year’s VNL.

Playing at home in Chicago, where the finals will take place in July, United States is the team to give France a good run for their money. With a star-studded line-up of their own, USA have the capacity, the motivation and the right attitude to do better than the bronze they took in 2018 and I see them playing in the gold medal match on July 14.

With a number of other strong teams taking part in the 2019 VNL, I find picking out the third medallist definitely the hardest. What I already said about the women’s VNL, that it is a heavy-duty competition requiring roster depth, stamina and a lot of energy to succeed, fully applies to the men’s VNL as well and brings out Brazil and Russia as the main candidates for the podium. In the hypothetical situation these two teams face each other in the third place match, the South Americans would be more motivated to earn their first ever VNL medal than the already-dethroned 2018 champs.

Constantine Dimaras
A long-standing FIVB writer and media delegate based in Greece, Constantine Dimaras first started contributing to the international federation's website in 2006. Favourite memories include covering the 1986 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in France and working for the Olympic News Service at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

USA haven't won a major world trophy since the 2014 FIVB World League gold medal in Florence and the 2015 FIVB World Cup in Japan, so perhaps their time is up again - and where better to do it than at home in Chicago where they host the Final Six of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Not having to deal with the qualification aspect of the VNL (as they're guaranteed a spot in the finals as hosts) will allow USA to concentrate on building up to just that five-day event in mid-July.

Obviously there's other contenders to the throne, such as reigning world champions Poland, defending VNL champions Russia and reigning Olympic champions Brazil and a host of other hopefuls - but in the end it will all come down to a very intricate and strategical game of managing resources in a month-and-a-half long tournament with a fair amount of travelling - all the while keeping an eye on the other competitions of the season, following immediately after the VNL.

Anna Tomas
A sport information specialist based in Manila, Philippines, Anna Tomas worked as a volleyball specialist at the 2006 Asian Games and 2008 Olympic Games and has been an editor since 2013 and a media delegate for AVC and FIVB competitions. One of her favourite memories is of the thousands of fans who flocked to Katowice to support Poland in the final of the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship.

Choosing the top men’s VNL title contenders this year is a tough one and with the amount of talent each team brings in each year, choosing only three teams would not be enough. However, the teams that stand out are Russia, Poland and France.

Whenever key players like Maxim Mikhaylov suit up for the national team, Russia’s spectactular five-set comeback at the London 2012 Olympic Games comes to mind. The current VNL champions have proven at the 2018 VNL that their two stars often inspire them to success.

Poland is another top favourite because of their back-to-back wins at the World Championship. Michal Kubiak and his teammates bring a lot of spark to their offence each time and the team's younger players also provide a lot of dimension to their game.

Michal Kubiak in action for Poland against the USA in the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship

The third team on the list is France because of their creativity and explosiveness on the court. Benjamin Toniutti directs ingenious plays for the phenomenal Earvin Ngapeth who never runs out of entertaining moves. Of course, Stephen Boyer was a great revelation last year and will add to France’s already multi-dimensional game.

Quick links - Volleyball: - Volleyball Nations League - Volleyball

Carrying on from last year’s successful competition, the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League continues on the same format of 12 core teams and 4 challenger teams per gender.

The men's core teams are: Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Serbia and USA. They are complemented by the challenger teams of Australia, Bulgaria and Canada, plus newcomers Portugal who won last year’s Challenger Cup and are replacing Korea who were relegated last year.

Players returning to the competition include 2018 MVP Maxim Mikhaylov of Russia and teammates Dmitry Volkov and Egor Kliuka. Finalists France return with the likes of Earvin Ngapeth, Jenia Grebennikov and Benjamin Toniutti, while bronze medallists USA have Matthew Anderson, Micah Christensen and Taylor Sander in their ranks. Other players to look out for include Brazilian stars Wallace De Souza and Bruno Rezende as well as a host of top performers from the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in Italy and Bulgaria.

Click here to find out which players have been selected. You can also browse the competition website for information about the competition format, match schedule, host cities and the latest news.

The 2019 women's VNL began on May 21 preceding the start of the men's competition on May 31. The 2019 VNL retains a similar calendar to last year, with women playing during the week and men playing over the weekends in pools of four teams each until each has played against every other in a single round robin tournament. The women's Finals will follow in Nanjing, China from July 3 to 7 and the men's Finals in Chicago, USA from July 10 to 14.

Related article:
Women’s VNL – Who are your breakout teams in 2019?


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