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Brazil take lead, but race for Final Six spots still wide open

 

Brazil's Maique Reis and Alan Souza celebrate the win over Russia in front of well over six thousand fans

Lausanne, Switzerland, June 24, 2019 – Brazil took advantage of Iran’s straight-set loss to France to take the lead in the standings as the fourth competition week of the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League wrapped up on Sunday. However, the race for the five spots in the Final Six is still wide open as no team, other than hosts USA, have secured their advancement.

Of course, the Olympic champions are now closest to booking their ticket to the finals and if they win just two sets in one of their three remaining matches, they can start packing for the flight to Chicago. On Sunday, at home in Cuiaba, Brazil extended their winning streak to five after crushing defending VNL title-holders Russia in straight sets with Wallace De Souza and Ricardo Lucarelli Souza leading the way with 12 and 11 points, respectively. The Russian serving machine delivered seven aces, not enough to change the course of the match. With this result, Brazil climbed to the top of the table on an 11-1 win-loss record and 30 points, while Russia dropped to fourth on 9-3 and 26.


France surpassed Russia with a stunning shutout of hosts Iran to complete a clean sweep of the pool in Ardabil and move up the standings from fifth at the beginning of the week to third on 9-3 and 28. With 15 points to his name, Trevor Clevenot led the French to victory over the top-placed team in the standings, pushing the Iranians down to second on 10-2 and 30. Had they won this match, the Iranians would have qualified for the finals, but now VNL’s best scorer (on 182 points) and best attacker Amir Ghafour, best setter Mir Saeid Marouflakrani and their teammates will have to wait till the last week, when one victory would be enough to send them to the finals.

The fantastic ambience at the Rezazadeh Hall was highly commended by all participants. “The atmosphere was beyond volleyball games, and we need this kind of atmosphere to play volleyball,” said France’s captain Benjamin Toniutti. “I have played in a lot of countries, but this time it was way different, and we really enjoyed the weekend. I thank the people for this."


In another important clash between key contenders for the Final Six on Sunday, Poland came back from a set down against hosts Italy twice to eventually celebrate a 3-2 (23-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23) victory and stay well within reach of the top five. Maciej Muzaj and Aleksander Sliwka contributed 26 and 21 points to the win, respectively, while Giulio Pinali was Italy's top scorer with 19. This way, the world champions won each of their three matches in Milan in five sets to rise to the sixth place on 8-4 and 21, while the Italians, having lost two of their three games at home, dropped from third to fifth place, currently on 8-4 and 25.

"I really wanted three tie-breaks in three days and it happened!” commented Poland’s coach Vital Heynen. “I wanted my guys not to give up, and they didn’t! I am really proud of them...”


The other two teams that still have a shot at making the Final Six after completing the fourth competition week are Canada, currently eighth on 7-5 and 20, and Argentina, ninth on 6-6 and 19. In Hoffman Estates on Sunday, the Canadians snatched a hard-fought 3-2 (25-18, 26-24, 23-25, 21-25, 15-13) victory over Japan to stay unbeaten for the week and leave their Asian opponents out of contention. Graham Vigrass delivered four of Canada’s 12 stuff blocks in the match to climb to the top of the tournament’s best blockers ranking.

"We wanted to get at least two victories out of three. The game against the United States was a very, very good game; probably our best of the weekend. That was a huge three points against a good team. Coming out with three victories is even better than expected,” commented Canada’s Nicholas Hoag.


With libero Santiago Danani, the best digger and the best receiver of the VNL so far, on the squad, Argentina won two of their three matches in Milan, downing both hosts Italy and Serbia for three-point victories and getting very close to upsetting world champs Poland.

The race for avoiding relegation between three of the challenger teams also continues. Bulgaria managed to keep the edge with a spectacular 3-2 (26-28, 18-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-10) comeback against Germany in Cuiaba on Sunday to improve to 4-8 and 10, but with Australia shutting out Portugal in the all-challenger clash in Ardabil, Tsvetan Sokolov and his teammates are not completely safe yet. Australia (2-10, 10) and Portugal (2-10, 7), however, will be under the most pressure to score wins during the last week of play, if they want to stay in the league next season.


The deciding VNL action will move to Brisbane (Australia), Brasilia (Brazil), Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and Leipzig (Germany), where all the answers as to who will play in the Final Six and who will be relegated will be provided on the last three days of June.


All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV.

June 24 – all results:

June 28 – full schedule:

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