2017 Preview: World League sets out road ahead
Rio 2016 Olympic Games finalists Brazil and Italy will be among the favourites to win the 2017 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League
The opening weekend of the 2017 competition will even feature a repeat of last year's Olympic final, which saw Brazil defeat Italy 3-0. On the second weekend, 2012 Olympic champions Russia will hope to defeat 2016 Olympic bronze medallists the United States, after losing to the North Americans in the bronze-medal match in Rio.
Brazil, Italy, USA and Russia will be among the favourites to win the 2017 World League. Reigning champions Serbia, however, will also be out to defend their first title. 2015 champions France will hope to make amends for their disappointing performance at the 2016 Olympic Games, when they crashed out in the group stage. And reigning world champions Poland will aim for honours in the same year as they host the European Championships, after finishing fifth in Rio.
Brazil and Italy have dominated the World League over the years, but neither country has won the competition recently. Brazil last won the World League in 2010 and have been waiting for a historic tenth title since. Meanwhile, eight-time winners Italy have gone 17 years without ending the tournament as winners. Both teams have played each other 34 times in the World League, with Brazil leading the head to head 18 to 16.
“We did our job, we did our homework. The crowds were there. The fans were there. Now we must apply what we achieved in Rio throughout the World League,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°, looking back at Rio and ahead to this year's FIVB World League.
“We are in a new era, a new era for our sport and a new era for the way we communicate about the sport of volleyball. The 2016 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League was the biggest and best yet, including a record 36 teams split into three groups of 12. The World League expansion, that's real development, providing new opportunities to countries.”
Featuring just eight teams in its first edition in 1990, the FIVB World League has grown rapidly. Thirty-six countries will compete again this year. Participating teams will be required to feature eight players out of 14 from the last World League and six players out of 12 from the last Olympic Games.
The World League's Preliminary Round adopts the format used for the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Preliminary Round, with three different venues hosting matches over each of the three weeks of play for Groups 1 and 2, while Group 3 will take place over two weeks.
Of the 12 teams in Group 1, 11 also competed in the top tier in 2016 (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, France, Iran, Italy, Poland, Russia, Serbia and the USA). They are joined by 2016 Group 2 winners Canada. The top five of a combined Preliminary Round ranking will join the Finals hosts from June 28 to July 2.
Group 2 will also feature 12 teams. They include ten teams which competed in Group 2 in 2016 (China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Turkey), who will be joined by 2016 Group 3 winners Slovenia and Australia, who drop down from Group 1 after finishing 12th. The ever-improving Slovenians, who finished runners-up at the European Championships, and Australia are among the favourites. The Finals, from June 23 to 25, will be contested between the top three from the Preliminary Round and the hosts.
Group 3 will also feature 12 teams (Chinese Taipei, Germany, Greece, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Montenegro, Qatar, Spain, Tunisia, and Venezuela, joined by newcomers Estonia and Austria in their first FIVB World League appearances). The top three of the combined standings will join the hosts for the Group 3 Finals from June 16 to 18. 2014 World Championship bronze medallists Germany and Montenegro will be among the favourites.
And anticipation is mounting. A first statement of intent came from legendary coach Julio Velasco, who led Italy to three World Championship titles and numerous victories in the World League in the 1990s. After extending his contract with the Argentinean team through to 2020, he said: “We aspire to reach the World League final, qualify for the World Cup and try to beat Brazil.”
Meanwhile, Japan’s new coach Yuichi Nakagaichi summed up the long-term goal of all the teams in the FIVB World League: “Our aim is to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.”
The 28th FIVB World League will be an opportunity for teams to realign after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but will also be the first major milestone on the road to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
FIVB World League winners:
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