Lausanne, Switzerland, June 21, 2019 – The fourth competition week of the men’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League will get underway on Friday with matches hosted by the top three teams in the current standings - Iran, Brazil and Italy, as well as sixth-placed USA, also hosts of the finals from July 10 through 14.
On this week’s first competition day, at the Pala Lido in Milan, Italy will be challenged by Serbia, one of the candidates to make their way up in the standings and eventually qualify for the finals. The Italians are third in the table on a 7-2 win-loss record and 21 points, while the Serbs stand eighth on 5-4 and 13.
Serbia (and their predecessors) have won 26 of the 45 encounters with Italy in major world-level competitions, including a straight-set victory at the 2018 World Championship. Italy’s last win over Serbia took place in the previous edition of the VNL, also in straight sets.
“The upcoming weekend is one of our toughest in this year’s competition and we have to approach it very seriously. We have seen that Italy and Poland can perform very well. Argentina are always a difficult opponent for us. They are a team that can win against anyone. We have to put in some work now and I think our boys deserve to qualify for the Final Six,” commented Serbia’s opposite Drazen Luburic.
Italy and Serbia will meet at 20:00 local time. Three hours earlier, seventh-placed Poland (5-4, 15) and ninth-placed Argentina (4-5, 12) will open the three-day Pool 14 event in Milan.
Table leaders Iran are set to host Pool 15 at the Rezazadeh Hall in Ardabil. Before their opening game against Portugal at 18:30 local time on Friday, the Iranians have won eight of their nine VNL matches so far and earned 24 points. Their middle blocker Seyed Mohammad Mousavi Eraghi, the leader of the competition’s best blockers ranking, is recovering from a recent injury and may miss the match with Portugal, but he will be on Iran’s roster for the weekend, ready to help if needed.
“Some may think we have some easy games in Ardabil, but I know it will be tough,” said captain Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, who tops the best setters chart. “We’ve had a good tournament so far. This is our second consecutive week as hosts. We managed to win three matches in Urmia and I hope we get the job done in Ardabil.”
Rookies Portugal come into the match with Iran as number 13 in the standings, on a 2-7 record and seven points. Last year’s silver medallists France, currently placed fifth on 6-13 and 19, will open Pool 15 action with a game against 15th-placed Australia (1-8, 7) at 15:30.
Brazil, who match Iran on number of wins (eight), but place second with 22 points, will entertain 12th-placed Bulgaria (3-6, 8) at the Aecim Tocantins in Cuiaba at 20:00 local time. Coach Renan Dal Zotto‘s team will try to please the home fans by opening Pool 16 with a win.
"It is three games with teams that have great potential,” said Brazil’s Ricardo Lucarelli Souza, the tournament’s best attacker so far. “It's going to be a difficult weekend, but the team is well, confident, on a winning streak, and I hope we can create a real spectacle for the Brazilian fans."
In Friday’s earlier match in Cuiaba, at 17:00, 14th-placed Germany (2-7, 6) will try to stand up to defending champions Russia (fourth on 7-2, 20), who will not rely on the services of VNL’s best server Egor Kliuka this weekend.
USA, still the only team with a secure spot in the Final Six as hosts, will warm up the home fans at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, as Matthew Anderson and Thomas Jaeschke are expected to make their 2019 VNL debuts in the battles of Pool 13 this weekend. Coming home with a 5-4 win-loss record and 16 points as the sixth-ranked team in the table, the Americans will start off against 11th-placed Japan (4-5, 10) at 20:00 local time.
Returning to Hoffman Estates is bittersweet for Jaeschke, who tore his ACL while playing at the Sears Centre last year and this weekend’s matches are his first since then. He said his knee is feeling strong and the rest of his body is getting in playing shape as well. ”It’s mixed feelings for me. I’m excited to be back. The first thing I did when I came out here is go slap the spot where I landed (and suffered the injury). If we had something we needed to clear up, I hope we cleared it up,” Jaeschke said.
10th-placed Canada (4-5, 12), with VNL’s best scorer so far, Sharone Vernon-Evans, will go against bottom-of-the-table China (1-8, 4) in the Hoffman Estates weekend opener at 17:00.
All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV.