Croatia will be in Nagoya, Japan, in the opening week of the VNL 2023

The Volleyball Nations League 2023 will mark the first appearance of the Croatian women’s national team in the tournament and the Europeans are determined to make a good impression when competing with the best teams in the world.

Ranked 27th in the FIVB World Rankings, the Europeans earned the right of taking part in the VNL this season with their victory at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup 2022 in front of their home fans in Zadar.

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And now, less than two weeks ahead of their VNL debut, the Croatians cannot hide their excitement for competing with the best teams on the planet. Their clearly stated goal is to not make of it a one-and-done thing and return to the tournament in 2024.

“Even though it’s been almost a year since our victory at the Challenger Cup, it still feels unreal to me,” said setter Lea Deak. “We’re all very excited to play in the VNL, it’s the dream of every player. We hope that we can play our best game and secure a spot for the 2024 edition too. To play in the VNL is a huge honor, it’s a reward for several years of hard work and I’m proud that we earned it.”

A group of 30 players has been called up by head coach Ferhat Akbas almost a month ago, but not all of them have already joined the group that’s been training in the country’s capital Zagreb ahead of the VNL.

Team captain and opposite Samanta Fabris is still involved with her club team Eczacibasi Dynavit in the final of the CEV Champions League while Akbas, who coaches the Turkish team, is not leading the team’s activities yet.

Recovering from injuries, middle blocker Božana Butigan and outside hitter Lucija Mlinar are also not working with the group, which is currently training under the guidance of assistant coach Piotr Matela.

“Our coach and our captain are not here yet and other players are still recovering from injuries, but we’ve been working hard,” Deak commented. “More and more players have joined the group once their national leagues ended and we’re almost complete now. Everyone is working hard to stand out because we still have a large group and the coach is yet to decide the players who are going to compete in the VNL.”


Deak in action during last year's World Championship

Croatia had an opportunity to test themselves against five VNL opponents last year, when the team competed in the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship, and the results weren’t promising, with the team falling to Poland, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Türkiye and Korea while winning only two sets.

In order to win some matches and continue in the VNL in 2024, they know they will need to do better.

“We have everything we need for our preparation,” the setter added. “Now it’s up to us to train well and get ready for the first week of the VNL in Japan. We want to show that we fully deserve to be among the best teams in the world.”

The Europeans will be in Nagoya, Japan, in the opening week of the VNL 2023, from May 30-June 4, when they will face Bulgaria, Germany, Japan and Brazil. Before the trip to Asia, the team will take part in a friendly tournament in Italy where they will face the home team and Canada on May 22 and May 24.

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