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Men’s VNL, Pool 2: Three Challenger teams in early face-off

Argentina’s Facundo Conte spikes against Canadian triple block in a 2018 VNL game in San Juan
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 11, 2019 – Three of the four Challenger teams in the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, who face potential relegation at the end of the preliminary round, will meet each other in the very first weekend of the competition as Pool 2 action gets underway in Mendoza.

From May 31 through June 2, at the Aconcagua Arena, hosts Argentina will entertain Bulgaria, Canada and newcomers Portugal, three teams that will race with each other and with the fourth Challenger team, Australia, to avoid finishing last among the four and dropping out for the next VNL season. Of course, this is not the only reason these teams will try to collect as many points as they can, since they all have their chances to advance to the final tournament in Chicago as well. 

In fact, Canada were just below the cut-off line in 2018, finishing seventh with eight wins in 15 matches. With their long-time coach Glenn Hoag back in charge, the North Americans will certainly try to do better this year. “I’m looking forward to building on the progress made under Stephane Antiga’s direction,” Hoag pointed out. “I think it’s possible to make the final six this year,” said talented young opposite Bradley Gunter. “It’s a grind – lots of games right away and lots of travel, but in the end it’s worth it, especially when you are battling to get into the finals.” The Canadians managed to beat Argentina in San Juan last year and will try to do that again in Mendoza, but the first opponents they need to worry about are the Bulgarians. Canada lost to the southern European side in the 2018 VNL, but took revenge at the World Championship in Sofia.

Bulgaria vs. Canada in a 2018 VNL encounter

Bulgaria finished 11th in the 2018 VNL, with six wins on their record, including those over Canada and Argentina. They will also get into the new season under the guidance of a returning head coach. Silvano Prandi was appointed to the job for a second time in his career, after leading the team to their most recent medal from a major international competition – the bronze at EuroVolley 2009, and the goal set for him is to get the Lions to the 2020 Olympics. He said that the VNL is an important experience for the players before the Olympic qualifications in August. With Svetoslav Gotsev, the best blocker of the 2018 preliminary round, on the squad, and some important experienced players, such as Todor Aleksiev, Tsvetan Sokolov and Georgi Bratoev, also back on the roster, Bulgaria are quite likely to have a major role in the race towards the finals.

Bulgaria’s Svetoslav Gotsev in blocking action against Argentina’s Joaquin Gallego

Portugal came into the 2019 VNL as the winners of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup to replace the relegated team of Korea and write a new chapter in the history of their nation’s volleyball. The team has already started training for the important season ahead. The Portuguese will travel to South America well before the start of the VNL to get acclimatized through some friendlies with Chile and Argentina. “The big goal is to grow and enjoy one of the best sporting competitions in the world,” coach Hugo Silva said. “As a second goal, we want to keep Portugal in the world elite next year. No one wants to miss the chance to play with the biggest stars in the world.”

Argentina’s coach Marcelo Mendez will rely on a roster that features a number of internationally renowned stars, such as Sebastian Sole, Luciano De Cecco, Facundo Conte and Pablo Crer, as well as the best setter and the second best digger of the 2018 VNL preliminary round, Maximiliano Cavanna, to do much better than last year’s 14th place on a 4-11 win-loss record. 17 players, who are done with their club duties for the season, have been training for almost three weeks now. “Playing at home is always something beautiful - representing our country in front of the fans supporting Argentina,” Cavanna said. “Playing in Mendoza is going to be an awesome experience since it is a province that breathes volleyball. I hope we can bring joy to our people with some good results.”

Argentina’s Maximiliano Cavanna about to serve during national team training

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