Men’s VNL, Pool 4: Defending champs and silver medallists to face off on day one


2018 MVP Maxim Mikhaylov of Russia spikes against France’s Kevin Tillie in the VNL final in Lille

Lausanne, Switzerland, May 26, 2019 – Last year’s winners Russia and runners-up France will meet face to face in a repeat of the 2018 final on the very first competition day of the second edition of the men’s FIVB Volleyball Nations League. The anticipated clash will take place at the SPC Vojvodina in Novi Sad at 20:00 local time on May 31, right after Japan and hosts Serbia meet in the Pool 4 opener at 17:00.

Serbia and Japan in action during their 2018 VNL encounter in China

Friday’s match with France will be inaugural for Russia’s new head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, who took over the team earlier this year. The 43-year-old Finn already impressed the volleyball community by leading his club team Kuzbass Kemerovo to a sensational national title in Russia and now the bar is set high as he takes charge of Sborniya. “To take part in the Olympics is a childhood dream of mine, but this is in the future and I prefer to live in the present. We have to work well every day,” said Sammelvuo in a recent interview. “The result in the VNL is important and this applies to all participating teams.”

In last year’s preliminary round, Russia shut out Japan and lost to both Serbia and France, but went on to win gold after s straight-set victory over the French in Lille. 2018 Dream Teamer Dmitriy Muserskiy is recovering from hernia surgery and will skip the VNL, but both last year’s MVP Maxim Mikhaylov and Dream Team outside spiker Dmitriy Volkov are on the roster. So is the best server of the 2018 finals Egor Kliuka. The Russian squad has been preparing in Novogorsk since May 12 and will fly to Serbia on May 29.

France were the big favourites to win the inaugural VNL edition, but had to settle for the silver medals. Obviously keen on making up for it, they are coming into the 2019 VNL in full force. Their three members of the 2018 Dream Team, Kevin Le Roux, Benjamin Toniutti and Jenia Grebennikov, as well as the two best scorers of the final round in Lille, Stephen Boyer and Earvin Ngapeth, have been included on coach Laurent Tillie’s roster and the team is once again a top candidate for the title. On the way to last year’s final, France defeated all three opponents for the first week of this year’s edition – Japan (3-1), Russia (3-0) and Serbia (3-0 and 3-0) – and look forward to doing it again in Novi Sad. “The VNL is a very long and very strong competition, with all the good teams in the world participating, which makes you push to the maximum. I hope the stands will be full of people again,” said libero Grebennikov in anticipation of the new season.

In 2018, Japan lost to Serbia, Russia and France and may look like the underdogs in Novi Sad, but with their eyes on hosting the FIVB World Cup later this year and the 2020 Olympic Games, the Japanese are eager to grow and show improvement in both performance and results as soon as the upcoming edition of the VNL gets unerway. Their optimism was fuelled by the result of their last friendly match before heading to Serbia – 3-2 at Italy – and the great scoring talent shown by Yuki Ishikawa in the two test matches in Cagliari, where he piled up a total of 49 points. “Currently, the team is in its best condition since I was appointed in 2017,” head coach Yuichi Nakagaichi pointed out. “However I would like improve my team even further and achieve good results in the VNL.”

Within such a strong company, Serbia will have the home court advantage and the enthusiastic support of the home crowd in Novi Sad. Nikola Grbic’s team also finished their preparation for the VNL on a high note, with a hard-fought 3-2 (25-22, 24-26, 25-18, 21-25, 22-20) victory over Bulgaria in the last friendly match between the two neighbouring nations played on Saturday evening in Belgrade. Although many of Serbia’s big stars did not play in the tests against Bulgaria, the VNL roster of the team boasts huge names like that of Aleksandar Atanasijevic among others. “It will be a big event, because people in Serbia love volleyball. The hall will be full and for the players it will be a pleasure to perform in Novi Sad,” said the Serbian opposite.

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