The 2014 FIVB World League kicked off this past weekend, and while our boys in red and white have yet to hit the court, we're here to bring you stories and results from around the globe!
This top pool featuring powerhouses Brazil, Italy and Poland as well as up-and-coming Iran will be a battle ground where every point is important. Italy's already secured a spot in the Final Round as hosts, but the the spots up for grabs won't be an easy grab for any of the three teams.
Brazil hosted Italy this weekend in Jaragua Do Sul to open the League, and the Azzurri got off to a great start by stealing two wins right under the noses of Brazil, both by a score of 3-1. What makes it all the more impressive is that Italy did it without stars Christian Savani or Michael Lasko. Instead, Italy's youth movement is being led by one of the most dynamic and lethal players in the world, Ivan Zaytsev. His 26 point performance in game 2 single-handily secured the win for Italy, while they walked away from Brazil with a huge 6 points, something we haven't seen in a long time.
The other top pool will see some biggest powerhouses in men's volleyball slug it out over the course of the seven weeks. Defending Champions Russia are joined by the United States and a pair of Eastern European giants, Bulgaria and Serbia.
The U.S. made the trip to Bulgaria in this first weekend, and the transitioning Americans drew first blood by grabbing a pair of wins in Varna. The first was a dramatic five-set comeback, where they found themselves down 0-2 before storming back and closing it out with a 15-12 win in the fifth. This American squad is a hybrid of sorts, pairing the experience of players like Reid Priddy and David Lee with the next generation likes of Micah Christenson and Taylor Sander. Both played all nine sets this weekend, and it looks like John Speraw is giving the young guns as much chance to grow as possible. The Americans were led in scoring on both nights by Matt Anderson, scoring 24 in the first match, then adding another 20 over four sets in the second.
Canada's pool got rolling this weekend when Australia visited Belgium. We'll give you a preview of the pool and Canada's outlook later in the week, but for now, here's what went down this weekend.
The home squad started their campaign in fine form as they kicked off their first ever World League with a pair of wins, 3-0 and 3-1. Canadian fans take note: Belgium is the real deal and playing them at home will be as hard as any European superpower. The Red Dragons are led by legendary setter Frank Depestele (don't believe us? Check this out) who runs a balanced and creative offence, as we saw this weekend with multiples attackers attaining double-digits. Both matches were celebrated widely by the fans, packing the house and pushing their team for every point. Canada's trip to Belgium on June 6th and 8th is not likely to be an easy one.
Pool D is the 'Group of Death' for the World League's 2nd Group. With all four teams having participated before, the lone-survivor will have earned it. Germany and France are both considered amongst the creme of the crop in Men's volleyball, and the return of Head Coach Julio Velasco to Argentina could be the tipping point for their young and very talented squad. Rounding out the group is the always dangerous Japan. In the only group to have all four teams competing, Japan made the trip to Germany, while Argentina played host to France.
The Germans opened things up with a pair of wins this weekend. The handled things easily with a 3-0 win, then were pushed to the limit when they stopped the Japanese comeback taking the 5th 15-9 after being up 2-0. In the absence of superstar Georg Grozer, Christian Fromm was the one to stepped up, especially in the second match where he finished with 28 points.
France were the spoilers in what should have been Coach Velasco's glorious homecoming. Instead, they walked away from Mendoza with a pair of wins and 5 precious points. The first win was a back-and-forth affair with both teams swapping sets until France closed it out 15-12 in the 5th. They were led by Antonin Rouzier who scored 21 on Saturday, and added another 13 on Sunday. Interestingly enough, Argentinian setter Luciano De Cecco did not start in either match, with Velasco opting with young Nicolas Uriarte instead.
Pool E was the lone pool from the top two groups to not see any action this weekend, but it's made up of three teams from Pool C last year; Korea, Portugal and the Netherlands who are also joined by the Czech Republic.
Canada kicks off their World League campaign this weekend against Finland in Calgary, we'll see you there!