Lausanne, Switzerland, June 23, 2019 – Three matches between teams in the top six of the current standings are set to take place on Sunday and the first tickets to the finals may be booked as the penultimate fourth weekend in the preliminary round of the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League is completed. Leaders Iran will host fourth-placed France in Ardabil, runners-up Brazil will entertain third-placed Russia in Cuiaba, and in Milan, Italy will host Poland in a game between the fifth and the sixth in the table.
Iran will try to please the enthusiastic home crowd at the Rezazadeh Hall with yet another successful performance as they face last year’s silver medallists France at 18:30 local time to wrap up Pool 15 action. They are top of the table on a 10-1 win-loss record and 30 points, after shutting out Australia on Saturday with another 16 points (including three stuff blocks and four aces) from VNL’s best scorer and best attacker Amir Ghafour. At the same time, his teammates, Seyed Mohammad Mousavi Eraghi and Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, lead the individual rankings for best blocker and best setter, respectively.
France come into the clash with Iran on an 8-3 win-loss and 25 points. With a 12-point contribution from Timothee Carle, the French defeated rookies Portugal in straight sets on Saturday.
Iran have won only one of their five major world-level competition matches against France, a 3-2 victory at the 2017 Grand Champions Cup. In last year’s VNL, France beat Iran 3-1 in the preliminary round.
“We have not won against France that often. The game is vital and we need to perform differently from what we have done in the last two games," commented Iran’s coach Igor Kolakovic.
“What we know is that the atmosphere will be against us. But we will do our best to win like always," said France’s captain Benjamin Toniutti.
Earlier on Sunday, at 15:30, another important clash will take place as the two lowest placed challenger teams – Portugal, 14th on 2-9 and 7, and Australia, 15th on 1-10 and 7 – go against each other in a crucial battle, which will help the winner in the quest to avoid relegation.
“It’s a big match for both Portugal and Australia. We need to do well in the last moments of the sets, and have to prepare ourselves fully,” said Portugal’s coach Hugo Silva. “It is like a final for us!” exclaimed his Australian counterpart Mark Lebedew.
Brazil and Russia will complete the week in Pool 16 at the Aecim Tocantins in Cuiaba with a titanic duel between the reigning Olympic champions and the defending VNL title-holders set to start at 20:00 local time.
Brazil are the only team that have managed to defeat Iran since the start of the competition and are placed second on 10-1 and 27 points. On Saturday, the home side had a tough five-set encounter with Germany, but managed to come back from a set down twice in the game to emerge with a 3-2 (20-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-17, 15-13) victory. Sub-in Alan Souza was Brazil’s best scorer of the match with 17 points. Germany’s Simon Hirsch topped the charts with 19, including four stuffs and four aces.
Before that, with Victor Poletaev flying high again with 20 points, Russia delivered a straight-set win over Bulgaria to improve to 9-2 and 26 points. Tsvetan Sokolov was Bulgaria’s top scorer with 15 points.
Bulgaria (3-8, 8) and Germany (2-9, 7) will meet at 17:00 in an all-European fixture, very important to the southerners, who as another challenger team are far from safe from relegation.
The only challenger team, which have already secured their spot in next year’s edition, are Canada. Not only that, but after winning Saturday’s North American derby with USA, the Canadians improved to 6-5 and 18 and are well in contention for the spots in the Final Six. Despite a 19-point contribution from US super star Matthew Anderson, they managed a 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17) win to disappoint the home crowd at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. Stephen Timothy Maar was Canada’s most prolific player, with 18 points.
Japan shut out China in the Asian derby, which took place earlier on Saturday in the same Pool 13, with Yuji Nishida and Yuki Ishikawa top scoring 16 points each.
On the last day in Hoffman Estates, Canada will meet Japan (5-6, 13) at 12:00 local time, while hosts USA (6-5, 19) will entertain China (1-10, 4) at 16:30.
The fifth and sixth-placed teams in the current standings, Italy and Poland will wrap up Pool 14 at the Pala Lido in Milan as they face each other at 20:00 local time on Sunday. The home side is the last team above the cut-off line for the finals, with an 8-3 win-loss and 24 points. The world champions are the top team below the line, on 7-4 and 19. So the outcome of this game could prove crucial in the race for the Final Six spots.
In the pool’s first match of the day, Argentina (5-6, 16) and Serbia (5-6, 14) will lock horns with each other at 17:00 in a duel to save a shot at making the finals.
Poland’s Bartosz Kwolek and Serbia’s Miran Kujundzic hammered out 24 points apiece as the two sides engaged in a five-set battle on Saturday, with the Poles celebrating a 3-2 (32-30, 21-25, 25-21, 19-25, 15-11) victory. The Italians, on the other hand, suffered a four-set upset at the hands of Argentina, whose Cristian Poglajen came out on top of the scorers’ chart with 16 points, while libero Santiago Danani once again topped two of VNL’s individual rankings – for best digger and for best receiver.
“The match with Italy presents us with a chance for the finals," said Poland’s coach Vital Heynen.
“It is going to be crucial for the Final Six for both Italy and Poland,” Italy’s middle blocker Daniele Mazzone confirmed. “We will see who wants to be stronger.”
All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV
June 22 – all results:
June 23 – full schedule: