With five tickets to the Finals still up for grabs, volleyball fans around the world can look forward to a dramatic showdown on the penultimate weekend of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix 2013 Preliminary Round.
The premier annual event for women’s volleyball is more finely poised than ever: after the first two weekends of action, 10 countries still harbour realistic hopes of qualifying for the Finals in Sapporo, Japan. Other than the hosts Japan, who qualify automatically, no team has yet secured its place in the prestigious Finals. The destination of the five coveted tickets will be determined in 30 matches in five different preliminary venues around Asia.
China, whose only World Grand Prix title to date came 10 years ago, look to have the best prospects of reaching the Finals. Along with Japan, the Chinese and their new star coach Lang Ping are one of only two teams still undefeated after six preliminary matches. The points leaders on the Preliminary Round standings with 17 points also have home advantage at the tournament in Wuhan – and they also face only one opponent still with a chance of reaching the Finals, in the form of European champions Serbia, who are currently third with 16 points.
Olympic gold medallists Brazil and defending champions USA, who have won the last three World Grand Prix in a row, have their work cut out if they are to achieve that same goal. Having come into the competition as favourites, the two teams now find themselves fifth and sixth in the Preliminary Round standings with 14 points. As such, they occupy the last two places to qualify for the Finals. Brazil appear to face the easiest challenge in the last weekend of the Preliminary Round, but nothing can be certain, especially after their shock 3-2 defeat at the hands of Bulgaria in week two.
The world No. 2 Brazilians will face hosts Kazakhstan, a young Cuba side and the Netherlands in Almaty. Only the Netherlands have a slight mathematical chance of reaching the Finals but they need to win all three matches and hope other results go their way. “We must be extremely focussed, in order to ensure that we achieve our first goal of reaching the Finals,” coach Ze Roberto’s warned.
USA, for their part, are aiming to become the first team in the history of the competition to win four times in a row. To keep this dream alive, they must first come through a difficult test this weekend in Sendai against the undefeated hosts Japan, giant-killers Bulgaria (13 points) who also line up with a chance of reaching the Finals, and the Czech Republic. “
Another three teams still aiming for the Finals go head to head in Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei. The team currently sitting fourth on 15 points, Italy, find themselves in the best position but last year’s third-placed team Turkey and the Dominican Republic, on 13 and 11 points respectively, are lurking ominously.
Two more of the chasing pack will also be hoping to book their tickets to the Finals when they take to the court in Bangkok, Thailand. World champions and three-time World Grand Prix winners Russia (12 points) and Germany (11 points) face each other on Friday.
“We want to pull off a miracle and qualify for the Finals,” says German coach Giovanni Guidetti, whose team also has its sights set on winning gold on home soil at September’s European Championships.
To read more news from this competition click World Grand Prix 2013.