Dmitriy Muserskiy in action for Russia at last year's FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in Poland
Lausanne, Switzerland, September 1, 2015 - The FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup Japan 2015 from September 8-23 follows on from the women's competition and will see 12 of the best teams in the world play a total of 66 matches and compete for two places at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
As is traditional, the competition will be held in Japan. The pre-tournament favourites are world champions Poland, USA and, of course, record World Cup winners Russia.
Vladimir Alekno has taken responsibility for the coaching role following the Russians’ worst ever showing in the history of the FIVB World League. The successful coach guided Russia to Olympic gold in London in 2012.
Russia (and the former USSR) have dominated the World Cup, claiming six titles and as many as ten medals from twelve tournaments. As the competition will not feature Brazil this year (World Cup winners in 2003 and 2007) - they are automatically qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as the competition hosts - Russia see themselves as the favourites to defend the title they won in 2011.
“In the Russian team there is always only one goal: first place. At the very least, to play in the final. It does not matter whether it is the World Cup, World League or a friendly tournament,” said Dmitriy Muserskiy.
However, the 2012 Olympic final match-winner is keen not to dwell on the poor season his team have endured so far. “The desire to rehabilitate ourselves after a bad performance in the World League is not our priority. We are only focused on a successful performance at the World Cup.”
The team also achieved a lot with former head coach Andrey Voronkov. However, the return of Vladimir Alekno has given the Russian players a boost, brought in new ideas, and seen the return of an old favourite, 39-year-old volleyball legend Sergey Tetyukhin.
Russia will take on world champions Poland in a clash of the titans in Hamamatsu on September 9. Poland won all four matches between the two teams in this year’s FIVB World League, and are again in dazzling form coming into the World Cup. Coach Stephane Antiga's team won their three warm-up matches at the Wagner Memorial against World League winners France, Iran and Japan.
“We are in good form for the World Cup in Japan. We're going there to gain Olympic qualification,” said Matthew Bieniek, who was the Wagner Memorial tournament's top server.
USA are also sure to have their say. Coach John Speraw’s team have sought out the toughest possible opponents in preparation for the tournament: world number one Brazil.
There were victories for both teams at the USAV Cup, and both teams picked up a lot of valuable experience. “Our players have been training really well during this preparation period for the World Cup. We have learned a lot and we will be ready to fight for the tickets to Rio,” said coach John Speraw.
However, dark horses Iran and supercharged hosts Japan will have something to say about that.
As will Italy. The 1995 World Cup winners arrive in Japan with new coach Gianlorenzo Blengini. Mauro Berrutto's successor oversaw an excellent 3-0 victory over Argentina in a friendly match last week. The Azzurri squad featured Cuban-born Osmany Juantorena for the first time. The outside hitter has enjoyed a distinguished career as a club player. He won four golds with local club Trentino Volley at the FIVB Volleyball Men's Club World Championships from 2009 to 2012 - he also played for the Cuban national team from 2003 to 2006. And the Italians have their sights set on taking full advantage of this first opportunity to qualify for Rio.
As Muserskiy is keen to stress, only one thing is sure. “At an international level, there are no weak teams. Each opponent is a serious threat. Two years ago, we did not know about Iran’s volleyball team. And now they have come close to winning medals at major tournaments. There will not be an easy game.”
Russia and Poland are paired in Pool B and will also take on Argentina, Iran, Venezuela and Tunisia in Hamamatsu. The 2014 FIVB Volleyball World League champions USA lead the way in Pool A, which takes place in Hiroshima. John Speraw’s team will face hosts Japan, Italy, Australia, Canada and the second African representative Egypt. After two rest days, the second round of matches will be played in Osaka and Toyama. They are followed by another two rest days ahead of the third round in the capital, Tokyo. At the end of the final day of matches on September 23 – including clashes between Italy and Poland, and Japan versus Russia – we will know who the recipients of the first two tickets for the Olympic Games are.