VNL 2024 - News

Japan (JPN) vs. Italy (ITA) men - Pool 6 - Preliminary Phase #5658074

Japan and world champions Italy ranked second and fourth in the Preliminary Phase

After three intense weeks of battles around the world, the eight best men’s teams in the Volleyball Nations League 2023 are ready to play in the Finals, which will take place in Gdansk, Poland, this week, from Wednesday to Sunday.

The United States, Japan, hosts Poland, world champions Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia and defending champions France are the eight national teams that will compete for the title of the fifth edition of the tournament at the Ergo Arena.

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It will all come down to the eight matches that will be played during four days in front of the always passionate and intense Polish fans and every team that made it this far has good reason to believe they can make a push and walk away with the title.

Here’s all you need to know about the eight title contenders:

USA

Last year’s runners-up, the United States had the best campaign in the Preliminary Phase, finishing at the top of the standings with ten victories and 31 points – the Americans were only defeated by South Americans Brazil and Argentina and had a five-match winning streak between the upsets.

The VNL 2023 marked the return of veteran middle blocker Max Holt to the team for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics. The team’s top scorer in the Preliminary Phase was outside hitter Torey Defalco with 135 points. Setter and team captain Micah Christenson was another standout in the American campaign, ranking second in the entire tournament in successful sets with 225.

Japan

The Japanese were one of the sensations of the Preliminary Phase, finishing in second place with the same ten victories as the Americans, but only 27 points. The Asians won their first ten matches in the VNL 2023 before falling to Italy and Poland when they had already booked their tickets to the Finals.

Captain and outside hitter Yuki Ishikawa was one of the top players in the entire tournament, ranking third in points (205), kills (177) and passes (74). Libero Tomohiro Yamamoto was third in digs (96) and setter Masahiro Sekita ranked fourth in successful sets (222).

Poland

Poland were the third team to finish the Preliminary Phase with ten wins, but ranked below Americans and Japanese because they only amassed 25 points. Their only upsets were delivered by Serbia and the United States and the Europeans enter the Finals at home on a five-match winning streak.

There was a lot of rotation between players made by head coach Nikola Grbic during the Preliminary Phase and the team’s top scorer was outside hitter Wilfredo Leon, who produced 96 points in seven matches. Team captain and opposite Bartosz Kurek tallied 75 in six encounters.

Italy

World champions Italy started the VNL with a younger squad and dropped their first two matches, but brought the big guns back and ended the Preliminary Phase in good form, with nine victories in the next ten encounters, finishing fourth with 26 points.

Opposite Yuri Romanò, one of the few players to appear in all 12 matches, ranked sixth in scoring in the VNL with 191 points and sixth in kills (157) and second in aces (21). Team captain Simone Giannelli was eighth in successful sets (202), having played in just the second and third weeks.

Argentina

Tokyo Olympic bronze medalists Argentina handled well the absence of star outside hitter Facundo Conte, getting nine wins and 26 points to finish fifth in the Preliminary Phase. The South Americans ended the opening phase of the VNL strong, with seven wins in their last eight matches.

Middle blocker Agustin Loser was by far the best blocker of the VNL 2023 so far with 51 stuffs, while outside hitter Luciano Palonsky was their best offensive player with 178 points. Libero Santiago Danani was second in both digs (108) and passes (76) and setter and team captain Luciano De Cecco ranked third in successful sets (223).

Brazil

2021 VNL winners Brazil had ups and downs in the Preliminary Phase of the 2023 edition of the tournament, but were able to comfortably qualify for the Finals with a campaign of eight wins and 25 points. The South Americans had some big wins, against the United States and France.

Veteran setter and team captain Bruno Rezende was the best in the Preliminary Phase in successful sets, topping the charts with 230. The top Brazilian scorer was Ricardo Lucarelli, with 175 points – in the Finals, he could get help from fellow outside hitter Yoandy Leal, who joined the team ahead of the trip to Gdansk.

Slovenia

Rising force Slovenia tied Brazil’s campaign with eight victories and 25 points, but ranked seventh because of their lower set ratio. The Europeans had a promising start, with six victories in their first seven matches, but couldn’t keep the pace, winning just two of their last five.

Libero Jani Kovačič was one of the standouts of the VNL Preliminary Phase, sitting at the top of both the digs (119) and passes (82) tables. Offensively, outside hitter Tine Urnaut was the most effective, with 174 points – he also ranked fifth in the league in aces, with 18.

France

The defending champions were the last team to book their tickets to Gdansk, confirming the eighth place in the standings on the last day of the Preliminary Phase with a campaign of six wins and 18 points. The Olympic champions were much better in the second half of the opening phase, when they got four wins in six matches, than in the first, when they had just two victories in six encounters.

With 89 points in eight matches, outside hitter Trevor Clevenot was France’s top scorer in the Preliminary Phase. Libero Jenia Grebennikov was once again one of the best in his position, ranking fourth in digs (93) even if he played in just eight matches. Will Earvin Ngapeth be back in the Finals?

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