2019 Review: Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Russia, USA secure spots at 2020 Olympics


Lausanne, Switzerland, December 23, 2019 – Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Russia and USA are the national teams that topped the final standings of the six qualification tournaments in August and, hence, claimed the first six vacancies, alongside hosts Japan, in the men’s volleyball tournament at the Tokyo Olympic Games from July 24 through August 9, 2020.

The world’s top teams were divided into qualification pools of four and single round-robin tournaments were played at six different venues from August 9 through 11, with six Olympic tickets at stake.

At the event in Varna, hosts Bulgaria were a match point away from delivering a huge upset of reigning Olympic champions and medallists from six of the nine most recent editions of the Games Brazil. The two sides had each already defeated the other two members of the pool, Egypt and Puerto Rico, and went face to face in the deciding clash. A heart-breaking drama unfolded in front of the 6,500 Bulgarian fans on the stands and hundreds of thousands more in front of the TV screens. The Balkan Lions were two sets ahead and reached match point in the third set, when the South American powerhouse started mounting their spectacular comeback. They took the set at 32-30 and then cruised on to the complete turnaround and the 3-2 victory, as Yoandy Leal put away 22 points to become the best scorer of this thrilling game.

"This win is incredible and very special to me!” Leal exclaimed after the match. “I will go to the Olympics for the first time in my career and it comes after four years of waiting to become part of the Brazilian team.”

Another South American team, Argentina, came out on top of what was probably the most unpredictable of the six pools. After claiming 3-1 victories over Canada and Finland on the first two days in Ningbo, the Argentineans had a tough encounter with hosts China on the last competition day. They needed to win two sets to prevent the Chinese from taking over the top of the final standings, but won three in an exciting five-setter to finish the tournament undefeated. China’s Chuan Jiang produced 27 points to become not only the best scorer of the match, but also the top scorer across all qualification tournaments on a total of 67 points.

The pool in Bari was also deemed hard to predict as European standouts Italy and Serbia had to compete for the one available ticket to Tokyo. As expected, it all came down to the last match between the hosts, silver medallists from Rio 2016, and the Balkan side, semifinalists of the 2018 World Championship, after the two teams had already defeated both Australia and Cameroon. However, the anticipated pool finale turned into a one-sided affair, in which the Italians pleased the home crowd with an emphatic straight-set victory and an Olympic berth. This tournament also produced the best blocker and the best server across all six pools, as Italy’s Matteo Piano delivered a total of 13 stuffs, while Serbia’s Aleksandar Atanasijevic came up with 10 aces.

Close to 10 thousand spectators in Gdansk saw hosts Poland crush France in straight sets on day two of the Olympic qualifications and in a way pre-decide the outcome of their pool, also featuring the teams of Slovenia and Tunisia. The next day, after losing the first set against the Slovenes, the reigning world champions reversed the course of the match towards a four-set win to top the pool unbeaten.

Three-time Olympic champs and bronze medallists from Rio 2016 USA finished first at the tournament in Rotterdam. The Olympic spot at stake was decided on the last day, as the North American powerhouse took on hosts Netherlands, after both teams had earned victories over Belgium and Korea. Despite a 23-point tally by Olympic qualifications’ second best scorer Nimir Abdel-Aziz, the United States squad managed a four-set win to triumph with a ticket to Tokyo.

“In a lot of ways, there’s a huge sense of relief as men’s volleyball is so competitive. It’s never a foregone conclusion and we knew that. We did what we had to do to go to Tokyo, and I’m just proud of the way we fought," said US coach John Speraw.

2012 Olympic champions, medallists from four of the five most recent editions of the Games and two-time VNL winners Russia were the only team that paved their way to the Olympics without losing any sets in the three matches played. At home, in Saint Petersburg, they mastered straight-set victories over Mexico, Cuba and Iran, in that order, to win the pool on an impeccable record.

The five spots at the Tokyo 2020 men’s Olympic volleyball tournament that are still vacant will be distributed one to each of the five confederations at continental qualifiers set to take place in January.