Iran’s Marouf was the best setter in the first week of VNL competition
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 7, 2019 – The second competition week of the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League will get started with a clash between two of the three teams that emerged undefeated from their three matches last week. Starting at 15:40 local time on Friday at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo, Brazil and Iran will lock horns in a battle to continue their winning streaks.
Iran had a great start, dropping only one set in total in the three games against Italy, China and Germany in Jiangmen last week. Hoping to keep this momentum, coach Igor Kolakovic will rely on the tournament’s best setter so far, experienced Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, to continue playing at high level and lead his teammates to more success. With Wallace De Souza on fire as the team’s top scorer, Brazil defeated USA, Australia and hosts Poland in Katowice to take the third place in the current standings after week one on eight points.
Brazil and Iran have met 14 times at major world-level competitions. Brazil won 11 of these games, including each of the last five. Iran won three, with the most recent victory dating back to their 2014 World League pool stage encounter. In their 2018 VNL match, Brazil prevailed after five sets.
"This is a very important competition, where the best teams in the world are playing. Our pool this week is very balanced featuring four selections with a lot of tradition in international volleyball. So even if the team is not complete at this point yet, we hope to achieve good results," said Brazil’s coach Renan Dal Zotto.
Argentina and hosts Japan are the other two teams playing in Pool 7 in Tokyo. Their game on Friday is set to start at 19:10. The South Americans arrived with a 2-1 win-loss record from their home tournament in Mendoza and with two of their players leading the individual rankings – Sebastian Sole for best blockers and Santiago Danani for best diggers. Japan delivered a 3-1 upset of hosts Serbia in Novi Sad last week, but went on to lose the next two games – against last year’s finalists Russia and France.
France are the only other team riding into the second week of competition on a perfect record of three wins. After defeating all their rivals in the Novi Sad pool, coach Laurent Tillie’s squad will open their Pool 5 campaign at the Beilun Sports and Arts Center in Ningbo with a duel against reigning world champions Poland, starting at 16:00 local time. At home in Katowice, the Poles won two and lost one, while their Dawid Konarski topped the VNL best blockers chart.
“We started the VNL well and I hope we can keep the same level this weekend,” Tillie commented. “Many teams in the competition will increase their quality through their games. So it will be a big fight in every match this week, and we will enjoy it.”
In the other Friday match in Ningbo, hosts China will entertain Bulgaria, starting at 19:30. Coach Raul Lozano’s team did not win any of their matches in Jiangmen last week and hope to change that course with a first win over this European opponent. Led by Nikolay Uchikov, the third best scorer of the first VNL week, the Bulgarians started the league with a win over Canada in Mendoza, but then lost to both hosts Argentina and rookies Portugal.
“Logically, the only expectation from our team is to win,” said Bulgaria’s coach Silvano Prandi. “Games against big teams such as China, France and Poland provide a great opportunity to increase our level. I hope we can present our fans with a good performance.”
The coaches and the captains of France, Bulgaria, China and Poland at a press conference in Ningbo
The Ufa Arena is ready to welcome the teams of Italy, USA, Portugal and hosts Russia for the three days of competition in Pool 6. In Friday’s first match at 16:00 local time, the Italians and the Americans will get the tournament going. With the second best scorer of the VNL so far, Gabriele Nelli, on the squad, coach Gianlorenzo Blengini’s team will try to achieve their third win in the competition, after beating Germany and China last week. Coach John Speraw’s selection had a shaky start in Katowice, losing to Brazil and Poland, but eventually recovered with a four-set win over Australia.
"We will meet some strong teams here in Russia, but we are confident," said Italy's libero Nicola Pesaresi. "We will have to take it one game at a time, hoping to improve the quality of our performance on the court. Now we are focused on the match against United States. We were able to rest sufficiently after our journey from China and we will approach the game knowing that we will have to give 100 per cent on the court."
VNL newcomers Portugal already celebrated their first victory in the competition, upsetting Bulgaria in Mendoza. Arriving in Ufa on a 1-2 record, they will challenge 2018 VNL champions Russia on Friday at 19:00. The Russians started off the defence of their title with a defeat in the remake of last year’s final with France, but then bounced back with wins over Japan and Serbia. Their Egor Kliuka leads in two of the current individual rankings. He is the best scorer with 64 points and the best server with 11 aces so far.
"All we are preparing for right now is the game with Portugal, and we are not even thinking about USA or Italy. Portugal are a good team and Alexandre Ferreira is a top player, in my opinion. Their 'blood is boiling' when they are on the court," said Russia’s coach Tuomas Sammelvuo.
Each of this week’s competition days will finish in Ottawa, where the Pool 8 matches will take place, with the teams of Australia, Germany, Serbia and hosts Canada taking to the court at TD Place. After defeating China last week, the Germans will be looking for their second victory of the season as they face winless Serbia in the first match of the pool, starting at 16:40 local time. Their Julian Zenger topped the best receivers chart as the only player with more than 50% efficiency in reception after the first week.
“Germany are traditionally a tough opponent for us and we have always had very tight matches against them. But we need to worry about us, without looking too much at the rivals, because we have several athletes who train and play together for the first time, so we have a lot of things to automate and get to know each other better,” stated Serbia’s coach Nikola Grbic.
Canada made a shaky start losing to Bulgaria in their first VNL game of the season, but emerged victorious from their games with Portugal and Argentina to come back home with a 2-1 record. Their first opponent in the Canadian capital will be the team of Australia, with the game set to start at 19:40. The Volleyroos will be aiming at their first win in the competition after losing all three of their matches last week in Katowice.
All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV
June 7 – full schedule: