Lausanne, Switzerland, December 18, 2019 - Slovenia's men in early July and Canada's women in late June dominated the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cups with thrilling battles in the race to qualify for the 2020 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
A bundle of joy for Canada, after beating the Czech Republic in the final of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in Lima
Slovenia hosted the men's tournament at home in Ljubljana and sailed through their preliminary round pool with straighforward wins over Chile in straight sets and Turkey in four. They were joined in advancing to the semifinals by Turkey, who had downed Chile 3-0 in the deciding match.
It was a rather more complicated affair in the other of the three-team preliminary round pools, but Cuba topped the table with a four-set win over Belarus and a tie-break victory over Egypt. It was the African side that made an early exit - having lost their opening match in dramatic fashion to Belarus.
More drama was played out in the semifinals, as it took Cuba five more sets to edge Turkey.
Slovenia followed Cuba into the final after coming back from a set down to beat Belarus in four.
Belarus did go on to grab third place with a 3-1 win over Turkey, but Slovenia defeated Cuba in straight sets, led by Klemen Cebulj's match high of 18 points, to the great joy of their ecstatic fans.
The men's team of Slovenia will replace Portugal in the 2020 VNL after the Iberian side finished last amongst challenger teams in the 2019 season.
Earlier in Lima, there had been even more drama in the women's Volleyball Challenger Cup.
The Czech Republic in Pool A and Canada in Pool B both sailed through to the semifinals with wins over Croatia (3-1) and Peru (3-1) for the former and Chinese Taipei (3-0) and Argentina (3-0) for the latter.
The semifinals proved even more straightfoward, both going down in straight sets, as Argentina proved no match for the Czechs and Canada outplayed Croatia.
Argentina eventually took the bronze medal with a victory over Croatia.
The high moment of the tournament, however, came in the final, when Canada opened a two-set lead and set themselves up for a comfortable sweep.
But the European side were of a different opinion. They took advantage of Canada's loss of concentration after losing Autumn Bailey in the second set and rallied back to force a tie-break - though the North Americans eventually regrouped for a solid and highly convincing win in the fifth set, powered by Alexa Gray's 27 points.
Canada's women will take the place of Bulgaria for the 2020 VNL following the relegation of the Balkan side in 2019.
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