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Match week 1 – Zemchenok confident of Russia’s men’s VNL title defence chances

Russia will take on France in a remake of the 2018 VNL final in Novi Sad on Friday
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 31, 2019 – Denis Zemchenok is confident of Russia’s chances of defending its title in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Russia and 15 other teams will vie for the second title of the VNL, so here is everything you need to keep up with the men’s tournament – all available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV.

The deputy captain has high hopes for Russia’s campaign at the 2019 VNL. The 32-year-old exuded confidence as he discussed his team's responsibility to make another mark this year.

“We are the reigning VNL champions and that is quite a responsibility for us,” Zemchenok said. “We are aware that we are the team to beat and everybody will do their best against us. We had a couple of weeks to prepare, the atmosphere in the team is good and we are positive.”

After taking home the trophy in the inaugural season of the VNL, Russia are back again for the second edition, aiming for a positive start in their title defence.

A total of 24 matches will be played from May 31 to June 1 on the first week of the VNL, where Russia will start their campaign in Pool 4 against last year’s runners-up France, Japan and hosts Serbia in SPC Vojvodina in Novi Sad.

“We are excited to start this year’s VNL,” Russia coach Tuomas Sammelvuo said. “We have to grow as a team and I have to personally get closer to the players so they can understand my vision better.

“We played Russia in the 2018 VNL Finals but this will be quite a different match,” France captain Antoine Brizard said. “We came here with changed rosters but we will do our best not to disappoint.”

Like France, young players will banner Serbia’s campaign on the first week, while Japan are focused on their growth in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“When I became a coach I always insisted that my players should play to win,” Serbia coach Nikola Grbic said. “We will not make any calculations. These youngsters are highly motivated to prove themselves. We will do our best in this tournament in front of our home fans.”

“Victory is important for sure, but for now what is important to focus on is the game itself,” Japan coach Yuichi Nakagaichi said. “We will do everything in our power to grow as a team and be prepared for the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Serbia will play the first match against Japan at 17.00 local time - the 2018 VNL final rematch between France and Russia will follow at 20.00.

Meanwhile, hosts China, Germany, Iran and Italy are in Jiangmen to compete in Pool 1. The match of Iran and Italy will be the VNL’s week 1 opener at the Jiangmen Sports Hall at 16.00 local time, followed by the host team’s matchup with Germany at 20.00.

In Pool 2, Argentina host North American side Canada and two European squads – Bulgaria and Portugal at the Aconcagua Arena in Mendoza.

Portugal will make their VNL debut, replacing Korea in the field of teams following the results of the 2018 VNL and Challenger Cup.

“It’s our first time to play at the VNL,” Portugal captain Alexandre Ferreira said. “We played in the FIVB Volleyball World League before but not with this team since most of our players are new. This will be the first time we play at this level. It will not be easy for us but we will try to keep our place in the VNL.”

“We know that Bulgaria and Portugal are difficult opponents, and also Argentina which will be in our group during the Olympic qualifiers,” Canada player Sharone Vernon-Evans said. “We’re excited to play with every team on this edition of the VNL because it is progress and preparation for us.”

The Canadians and the Bulgarians will open Pool 2 action at 18.10 local time, then hosts meet Portugal at 21.10.

Katowice hosts another big tournament at the Spodek Arena, where Poland hope to follow up on their World Championship success when they face the United States, Brazil and Australia in Pool 3. The pool's opening match will be between USA and Brazil at 17.30 local time, then the hosts will take on Australia at 20.30.

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