Belgium and Dominican Republic played five sets against each other last week, but this week their indirect race towards the VNL finals will continue
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 18, 2019 – As the women’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary round is going into its last week of competition, the big question as to which teams will make the cut for the Final Six in Nanjing is most likely to find its answer in the outcome of the matches to be played in Korea and Turkey.
With three teams - Italy, Turkey and hosts China - having already secured their spots among the finalists and two more – Brazil and USA – each practically needing just one more win to advance, the big unknown is who will take the sixth place in the final standings.
Tuesday’s very first clash, that between Japan and Poland, starting at 13:30 local time at the Boryeong Gymnasium in Boryeong, Korea, could provide a big hint. The two teams are the biggest contenders for the sixth place, each on a 7-5 win-loss record and 21 points, with Japan currently holding the coveted position only on set ratio. So whoever wins the direct duel will certainly gain an important edge in the race, and a lot is at stake as the tournament’s best scorer so far, Poland’s Malwina Smarzek, goes against the VNL’s best defender, Japan’s Mako Kobata.
Poland have won seven of their previous 21 matches against Japan in major world-level competitions, including a five-set victory in last year's VNL. Japan's last win over Poland at world level was a straight-set victory at the 2013 World Grand Prix.
The importance of Tuesday’s other match in Pool 20 in Boryeong is not to be underestimated as hosts Korea take on the Dominican Republic, also with a reasonable shot at the sixth place. Standing ninth on 6-6, the Caribbean Queens will be quite a likely finalist, if they sprint towards the finish line with three victories in Korea. The home side will, of course, do their best to bounce off from the bottom of the table, where they are currently stuck on a 1-11 record. The game will start at 17:00.
Belgium are the fourth team that have a reasonably good chance of booking a trip to Nanjing. Before their game against Turkey, at 19:00 local time on Tuesday at the Baskent Volleyball Hall in Ankara, the Belgians are eighth in the standings on the same win-loss record (6-6), but two points clear of the Dominicans.
Turkey have won four of their six world-level encounters with Belgium, including the most recent two - 3-1 in the 2017 World Grand Prix and 3-0 in the 2018 VNL. The match on Tuesday will also offer an interesting individual race between the two best servers of the tournament so far, Belgium’s Marlies Janssens and Turkey’s Ebrar Karakurt.
"In this challenging week we will play with the top three teams in the standings, but we will try to do our best,” said Belgium’s coach Gert Vande Broek. “We are pleased with our performance in the tournament so far since we have shown our growth compared to last year. That is why the VNL is so important to us.”
“We will play at home, in front of our own fans, and they are anticipating these matches. We want to show them a good performance,” stated Turkey’s captain Meryem Boz.
In the day’s earlier Pool 17 match, the spectators in the Turkish capital will get a chance to watch a clash between two major powers – table leaders Italy (10-2) and third-placed Brazil (9-3). The game is at 16:00.
Serbia and Germany, the other two teams that at least in theory hold a distant shot at the sixth place, will both compete in Pool 18 at the Beilun Sports and Arts Center in Ningbo.
10th-placed Serbia (5-7) will open the week in China against rookies Bulgaria (1-11), who will certainly be relegated for the next VNL season, but hope to build upon the first victory they achieved last week. The young selection of the reigning world champions will rely on the services of the tournament’s best blocker so far, Maja Aleksic, while Zhana Todorova, the libero of the even younger Bulgarian team, will try to regain the first place in the best diggers chart, which she held until last week, when she dropped to second. The first whistle will sound at 16:00 local time.
At 19:30, 11th-placed Germany (5-7) will challenge reigning Olympic champions and hosts China, who are fifth in the current standings on a 9-3 win-loss record. China’s outside spiker Zhu Ting, who tops the best attackers chart, will try to please the home fans with another shining performance to keep the mercury rising ahead of the finals in Nanjing.
“No matter who is our opponent, we will try our best to improve our performance and gain more experience in order to prepare better for the Final Six,” said China’s coach Lang Ping.
The games of Pool 19 will be played at the Palace of Sports in Ekaterinburg. The team of the Netherlands, who edge ahead of Thailand for the 12th place in the VNL table only on set ratio, will meet the Asian opponent at 16:00 local time. Each of the two sides is on a record of four wins, eight losses and 13 points, as the leader of the best setters ranking Nootsara Tomkom tries to lead her Thai teammates to victory against the European rival.
“At this point, our team has its experienced players back on the squad and we are very happy about it,” said Maret Balkestein-Grothues, captain of the Netherlands.
Hosts Russia, currently in 14th place on 3-19, will entertain USA, fourth in the standings on 9-3, at 19:00.
“For us, it is important to be competitive to the main teams this week in Ekaterinburg,” commented Russia’s coach Vadim Pankov.
All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV
June 18 – full schedule: