USA played at Hoffman Estates in pool play - now move to nearby Credit Union Arena 1 in Chicago to host the Final Six of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
Lausanne, Switzerland, July 8, 2019 - From Oleg Antonov's very first serve for Italy against Iran that set things in motion in Jiangmen on May 31 to Alan Souza's block on Italy's Alberto Polo that wrapped up pool play in Brasilia on June 30, there's been 20,770 rallies over 200 hours and 35 minutes net of pure volleyball played across the globe in the Preliminary Phase of the 2019 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League.
One hundred and twenty matches and 460 sets after that first Antonov service, the VNL is down to its business end this week as the top teams of the world gather in Chicago for the Finals, with USA hosting reigning Olympic champions Brazil, Finals rookies Iran, defending champions Russia, 2018 silver medallists France and reigning world champions Poland.
USA, bronze medallists last time around in Lille, after going down in five sets to France and then beating Brazil in straight sets in the third-place playoff, are this time playing in front of a home crowd and are surely after something better.
However, this time they'll have to overcome France as well as Russia in the Finals pool which features all three of last year's medallists, just to make it to this seasons' medal matches.
On the other hand, there's the pool with the finalists of the last two World Championships, Poland and Brazil (which the European side won on both occasions in 2014 and 2018), alongside the sole representative of Asia in this Final Six, Iran.
In fact, it all kicks off with a rematch of the last two World Championship finals, when Brazil and Poland face off in the Windy City's Credit Union Arena 1 on Wednesday. The two superpowers already met this year in the Preliminary Phase, with the South Americans prevailing in four sets in Katowice.
The opening day also features the rematch of last year's VNL semifinals, with USA seeking revenge for their defeat. When the two teams met earlier this season, the Americans outplayed France in four sets at Cannes.
It's then Iran against Poland on Thursday, as the long-standing and ongoing intense rivalry between the two sides comes to a head - just three short weeks after Iran outlasted the world champions in five sets in Urmia earlier in this VNL.
That's then followed by a rematch of last year's VNL final, with France seeking to redeem themselves for their loss in Lille.
Pool play in the Finals wraps up on Friday with Brazil facing Iran and USA entertaining Russia. These three-team pools are always very tricky and, come Friday, it could all well be decided with teams jostling for position to determine semifinal matchups. Or it could just as well come down to the very last point to see who actually goes through to the medals round.
Quick links - Volleyball:
FIVB.com - Volleyball Nations League
FIVB.com - Volleyball