Lausanne, Switzerland, July 8, 2015 - The heat is on again in week three of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix with the Group 3 Finals taking place in the Australian capital Canberra and three Group 2 Finals tickets up for grabs in Bulgaria and Argentina. Volleyball fans around the world will be treated to 34 matches from Friday to Sunday, also including Group 1 action with the second of three preliminary-round weekends featuring a number of important encounters.
Australia hosts a major tournament in the FIVB World Grand Prix for the first time when the Group 3 Finals take place in Canberra this weekend. Colombia have qualified for the Group 3 Finals on their debut in the competition and Kenya become the first African team to reach this stage of the competition - the African champions finished ahead of three-time Olympic champions Cuba in the preliminary round in order to qualify.
“It goes without saying that we have improved on last year’s performance, when we made our debut. Last year we recorded three wins and this time around we have won four matches. That shows how focused the team is,’’ said Kenya’s coach David Lung’aho. “Our objective was to qualify for the final round. I am happy that the teams we will play in the final round are familiar opponents who we have played in recent matches. Therefore, we will take one match at a time and hope to post good results.”
Lung’aho's team take on hosts Australia on Saturday. The local team failed to win any of its six preliminary-round matches, and lost in three sets to Kenya. The hosts are rank outsiders at the biggest women's volleyball event in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The second semifinal sees Peru play Colombia as the two favourites to win Group 3 go head to head.
Peru coach Mauro Marasciulo said: “The team is calm and controlled. It is a young team that is getting more and more experience. That is what we are looking for in order to develop a meaningful future.” Colombia captain Maria Alejandra Marina commented: “Colombia are a young team that are growing from game to game and we want the best result in Australia.”
In Group 2, the remaining three tickets for the Final Round in Poland are up for grabs. Hosts Poland are already guaranteed their place. The Netherlands, who won the World Grand Prix in 2007, have put themselves in pole position to qualify for the finals. Led by coach Giovanni Guidetti, the team travel to Formosa in Argentina with a maximum nine points to their name ahead of the matches against Poland, Canada and the hosts. The Netherlands' Maret Balkestein-Grothues said: “We are playing on the other side of the world to secure the spot in the Final Four.”
At the second tournament this weekend in Samokov, Bulgaria, three teams will aim to qualify for the final round: Puerto Rico (7 points), the Czech Republic (6) and hosts Bulgaria (3).
In Group 1, the three favourites – world champions USA, FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship Italy 2014 runners-up China and record World Grand Prix winners Brazil – have each opened their campaigns with three wins. The trio can continue their winning runs in the second preliminary-round weekend. Defending champions Brazil (9 points) have home advantage in Sao Paulo for their matches against Belgium (3), Germany (3) and Thailand (2), who are looking to keep their hopes of reaching the finals alive. Top star Thaisa Menezes, who has recently undergone an operation on her knees, will also have her fingers crossed for the Thai ladies.
China (9) have a difficult job ahead of them in Saitama, as they face two strong teams with their sights set on reaching the finals – hosts Japan (6) and Italy (6). Their third opponents are the Dominican Republic (0). The match between the USA (9) and hosts Russia (6) in Kaliningrad could also be an absolute cracker. Their other opponents in Russia are Serbia (1) and Turkey (0), who are both looking for their first win of the competition.
USA coach Karch Kiraly: “We are learning things. We do some things very well. Other parts of our game need to improve. We are excited about the next games.” His team are already guaranteed a place in the Final Six in Omaha from July 22-26 as first time hosts of the Finals. It goes without saying that the US team, which won the World Grand Prix three times in a row between 2010 and 2012, is keen to put on a great show in front of its fans. Of the other eleven teams in Group 1, the top five will qualify for the Final Round at the end of the three preliminary-round weekends.
The 23rd staging of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix includes 28 teams for the first time and runs from June 26 to August 2, 2015. The FIVB World Grand Prix has grown spectacularly since it was first held in 1993, when it featured just eight teams. The increase in the number of participating teams brings with it an increased level of competition and has also helped to spread the World Grand Prix to new territories around the world.