Lausanne, Switzerland, July 16, 2015 - Kenya have already been confirmed as the shock winners of Group 3. And the four teams to line up in the Final Four of Group 2 on the first weekend in August have also been decided: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Puerto Rico and hosts Poland. As such, the focus of millions of volleyball fans around the world will be solely on the top twelve teams in Group 1 in week four of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.
The 18 matches to be played from Thursday to Saturday will determine the destination of three tickets for the big Final Six tournament in Omaha/USA from July 22-26. Three teams have already booked their places after the first two preliminary round weekends: record winners and defending champions Brazil, World Championship silver medallists China, and world champions and hosts of the final round, the USA.
All three teams have a flawless record of six wins from six games. However, only two teams at the most can remain undefeated after the final weekend, as China (18 points) and the USA (17) go head to head in Hong Kong. Looking ahead to this match and the clashes with potential finalists Japan and Thailand, China coach Lang Ping said: “This tournament will be an interesting test for all the teams. We trained hard and hope to gain some more good experience.” Successful US coach Karch Kiraly sees the tournament as further preparation for the final round, which will be held in the USA for the first time: “We are trying to improve all aspects of our game.”
His US team, which won the World Grand Prix three times in a row between 2010 and 2012, is desperate to put on a great show in front of its home fans. The USA is out to bring to an end the winning run of Olympic champions Brazil, who claimed a historic tenth title last year and have their sights set on a hat-trick of successive Grand Prix victories this year. “We still need to work on our defensive side. We will focus on this in the next round, as we have already qualified,” said successful Brazilian coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes.
His team face tough opponents in Catania. Hosts Italy and Russia both have eleven points to their name and are thus in pole position to secure the remaining two tickets for the final. Two wins – one of which looks a foregone conclusion against rank outsiders Belgium – could be sufficient to make it to the Final Six. Italian coach Marco Bonitta is confident his team will progress: “We have four victories right now, which is good and will help us make the finals.”
His captain Valentina Arrighetti is also optimistic: “Our goal is to reach the Final Six. We are on the right track.” Russia’s coach is focused on “improving the quality of our game, especially receiving. Then success will come of its own accord.”
Because Japan (10 points) and Thailand (8) face two of the toughest possible opponents in the USA and China in their preliminary round tournament, the battle for the final ticket could be played out between Germany (6) and Serbia (6). To progress, however, they must pick up three wins in what is the weakest preliminary round tournament in Stuttgart,Germany. Their other opponents are the teams from the Dominican Republic and Turkey, who are still to score a point in the competition.
Germany’s Lena Stigrot said: “We are looking forward to playing three matches in front of our fans in Germany. We want to put on a great show in Stuttgart.” In the end, it may take a calculator to work out who progresses: after all, six teams still have realistic chances of claiming one of the three tickets still available for the Final Six and joining the best teams in the world.
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.