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Men's VNL Final Six lineup: How it all unfolded


Russians celebrate during pool play, as they make their way back to the Final Six to defend their FIVB Volleyball Nations League title.

Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1, 2019 - Brazil, Iran, Russia, France and Poland all qualified to join hosts USA in the Final Six of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, 10-14 July in Chicago, during the last weekend of the Preliminary Round. This is how it all played out:

Iran were first in, early on Friday, after beating Serbia 3-1 (25-23, 26-28, 25-22, 25-19) in Plovdiv and advancing to an 11-2 record and an unreachable 33 points.

Brazil followed suit without even having played after Poland dropped their first set to Japan. The reigning world champions did go on to win the match 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-20) and stay very much in the race, especially after Italy fell to Canada 3-1 (15-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-18) later that same evening.

Saturday dawned, first in Brisbane, with just three tickets unclaimed. And defending champions Russia were quick to grab one of those - though it took them well over two hours to get the job done, Argentina taking them all the way, before eventually bringing it all home with a 3-2 (25-19, 22-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-11) win. Russia were now safely out of reach of Italy.

Three down, two to go, before the sun rose in the rest of world, Saturday.

France (at 9-4), Poland (9-4), Italy (8-5) and Canada (8-5) were all in contention for these last two remaining berths - Argentina having now dropped at 7-7 after their loss to Russia and unable any more to overtake the others. In addition, France and Italy were about to go head-to-head later on Saturday in Brasilia.

After a very tight first set, France looked like they'd sail to a comfortable win, but Italy fought back and it took the 2018 silver medallists a lot of substitutions to finally get it right, take the win 3-1 (27-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-20) and leapfrog Poland to grab the fourth ticket for Chicago.

It was then all down to Canada, racing to catch up with Poland. They needed nothing short of two wins (while hoping Poland would stumble over Portugal in their last match). But the North Americans were up against reigning Olympic champions Brazil - and before a partisan crowd in Brasilia, at that.

It was never meant to be for Canada. Brazil were already qualified and didn't actually need the win, but they were playing in front of their own fans and obviously needed to impress them. So, despite the South Americans not fielding all their top guns, it was a quick and easy 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-19) for the South Americans.

Canada were out, Poland were in. Six finalists for the 2019 VNL all signed and sealed Saturday night, with one full day of pool play to spare.

Down at the bottom of the table, meanwhile, Australia and Portugal were in a race of their own, trying to avoid relegation. They were two of the four Challenger Teams this year, alongside Canada and Bulgaria, but by the start of Weekend 5 it was down to the two of them - each having scored just two wins.

Both lost their opening day matches, Australia falling to Russia 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-18) and Portugal to Germany 3-1 (28-26, 20-25, 25-20, 25-23).

But on Saturday in Brisbane, Australia picked up their third win of the season, recovering from a first set scare to take down bottom-of-the-table China 3-1 (24-26, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18).

China were doomed to finish last, but as a Core team were immune to relegation and assured of a spot in the 2020 VNL.

But Australia didn't have to wait too long to heave a sigh of relief. Some hours later after the Brisbane game, Portugal went down to Japan 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 25-20) and dropped to 2-12, unable to catch up with Australia any more.

Portugal will be replaced for the 2020 VNL with the winner of the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup this week in Ljubljana, featuring Belarus, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, Turkey and hosts Slovenia.

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