Will Women's Finals hosts China win the second edition of the VNL?
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 26, 2019 – With the Preliminary Round of the women's 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League completed and the Finals set to take place in Nanjing, China next week from July 3 to 7, FIVB.com editors Anna Tomas, Constantine Dimaras and Nikolay Markov tell us who they think might go all the way as this year's competition reaches its climax. You can read their thoughts ahead of the Preliminary Round here
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Nikolay MarkovA Bulgaria-based volleyball, beach volleyball and snow volleyball journalist, Nikolay Markov is an fivb.com editor since 2012. In 2008 he founded BugarianVolley.com 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.
I am sticking to my original prediction as I see no reason to make changes to it after the end of the Preliminary Round. All three of my predicted medallists finished among the top four in the standings and qualified for the Final Six.
USA demonstrated the great depth of their roster, with coach Karch Kiraly varying his squad a lot from match to match, yet not revealing the full potential of the team. The Americans finished runners-up of the Preliminary Round, falling second only to China on set ratio.
The hosts of the Final Six in Nanjing had a rough start, losing their first two games of the 2019 VNL in the only week they played away from home. They gradually picked up speed, especially with captain Zhu Ting rejoining the squad. The four weeks of playing in front of the home fans should have given the Chinese team a good feel of what to expect from the Finals and they should be well prepared to continue winning. The only team they lost to at home were the United States and I think this is the likely outcome of the gold medal match on July 7 as well.
Similar to USA, Italy made a great run through the Preliminary Round showing a lot of variation in their squad and not unfolding to their full potential. They certainly have the people and the talent it takes to go all the way to the top, but the youthfulness of the team may be the one factor to stop them from reaching higher than the bronze.Last year's winners USA will be one of the teams to beat in Nanjing
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 FIVB.com 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.
Serbia utilised their young players and not all their top stars lined up this year, including the likes of Maja Ognjenovic and Milena Rasic. Although they fell short of making it to the final round, the young players gained experience by competing against more formidable rosters. This has contributed to making the race tighter as hosts China and the United States have taken the top two spots in the ranking with 12 wins in 15 matches.
China will be a very tough team to crack as they play on their home court and they have shown great teamwork in their performances this year. Now it’s not only Zhu Ting who is swinging hard for the attacks, with Yuan Xinyue scoring as many points as her teammate and other high scoring players including Gong Xiangyu and Zhang Changning, making it harder for their opponents to manage defence.
Italy delivered strong performances to reach the final round. Young star Elena Pietrini lived up to expectations and combined well with Indre Sorokaite for some great scoring performances. Together they have boosted Italy’s drive to the final round, even without star Paola Egonu. Sorokaite was consistently on target, contributing to her team's confidence and winning spirit.
Indre Sorokaite (1) and Ofelia Malinov (5) celebrate a point for Italy
Turkey, on the other hand, have a line-up that is well assembled by Giovanni Guidetti. Week after week, Turkey had that well-balanced combination of players who provided great intensity to come up with victories. Karakurt’s firepower from the attack line, Cansu Ozbay’s playmaking flair and Meliha Isamailoglu’s great passing game have all aligned to take their performance a notch higher this year.
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.
Brazil, China, Italy, 2018 silver medallists Turkey and defending champions USA are all powerhouses that were generally expected to qualify to the Final Six and play out for the medals of the 2019 Volleyball Nations League and they're all equally up to the task - even though so far they've been experimenting quite a bit and showcasing some fresh new talent along the way.
Brazil and Italy have been shining throughout the season, especially with Gabriela 'Gabi' Guimaraes on fire for the South Americans and some thrilling new talent for the Europeans. And China, playing at home, are expected to come up with their strongest formation, including superstar Zhu Ting. And also keep an eye on Turkey's rising star Ebrar Karakurt.
For USA it's potentially a different situation alltogether, as they probably have more depth in their side than any other.
The sixth finalists Poland have been the revelation of the tournament so far - especially ahead of co-hosting (alongside the Netherlands) the next World Championship in 2022 - but maybe they rely too much on one player to get things done against the top opposition they'll be facing in Nanjing.
It is certainly going to be a cracking tournament. But what it will all come down to in the end is the squads each country will field for the Final Six (and for each specific match in the competition) and how the coaches will manage their resources, one match at a time.
The Women's Finals begin on Wednesday, July 7 with a match between reigning champions USA and Poland and another between hosts China and last year's silver medallists Turkey. The pool round will be played from Wednesday to Friday with the semifinals following on Saturday and medal matches on Sunday.
Final Preliminary Round ranking: