Lausanne, Switzerland, August 10, 2019 - Poland took a huge step towards a ticket to the men's volleyball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Saturday afternoon in Gdansk when they shut out France 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-20) in the deciding match of their pool, though all six Olympic tickets available this weekend remain unclaimed, ahead of Sunday's closing day of the qualifiers. Here's how Saturday unfolded across the six pools:
Wilfredo Leon, in only his second official game for Poland, led the home side in their sweep of France in Gdansk, scoring a match-high 17 points as the hosts put up an impenetrable block that earned them 12 points (to France's 5).
Poland now need just one set on Sunday against Slovenia to celebrate their qualification to Tokyo 2020. Only if Slovenia beat Poland in straight sets can they (or France) hope for first place in the pool on a potential better set or point ratio.
Toncek Stern led Slovenia with 19 points and a 62% (18/29) attacking efficiency as they came from behind in the third set to shut out Tunisia 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 26-24) in the other match of the day in Gdansk, leaving the Africans winless and setless.
Argentina close in on ticket to Tokyo 2020
In Ningbo, Argentina are now just two sets away from a berth in Tokyo 2020, after their 3-1 (25-17, 18-25, 25-21, 26-24) win over Finland and in combination with China's defeat to Canada 3-2 (24-26, 25-21, 25-17, 23-25, 17-15).
China's loss means that the hosts now need a win for full points against Argentina on Sunday to advance, while the South Americans will be happy with just two sets. Canada are already out of contention after dropping a point today.
Argentina were led by Bruno Lima who scored 13 points and Cristian Poglajen who added 11 more, though the match high belonged to Samuli Kaislasalo who scored 22 for Finland.
The Finns never got a clear shot at forcing a tie-break - all they could do is just cancel a match point at 24-23 before Facundo Conte came to the rescue with an attack that sealed the game.
But China failed to capitalise on home advantage and fell in five to Canada's superior performance on the net of 56% (72/132) to 43% (52/121) in attack and 10 to 8 blocks, as Nicholas Hoag and Liu Libin shared top scoring honours on 20 points each.
The Asian side had two chances to take the game, but failed to convert set balls at 13-14 and 14-15, before Canada made a 3-0 run with Tyler Sanders (who was on the starting lineup only in the fifth set) blocking Liu to finish the tie break 17-15.
Russia v Iran for one ticket to Tokyo
In Saint Petersburg Russia and Iran go head-to-head on Sunday with the winner getting the coveted ticket to next year's Olympic Games from their pool, after both remained undefeated with clear wins on Saturday.
Iran beat Mexico 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 27-25) - though the Asian side, playing with quite a few reserves, had to fend off one set point of the Mexicans in the third set, before coming back to take the match in their own second attempt - that on a successful net touch challenge after an attack by Porya Yali.
Yali was top scorer of the game on 20 points - Mexico's Daniel Vargas just one behind on 19.
Russia also had to concentrate on the crucial moments of the game, as they outplayed Cuba 3-0 (25-18, 26-24, 27-25).
The hosts missed their first chance to finish the second set, but on their second try Ivan Iakovlev served an ace on Yohan Leon for the last point.
The hosts were 22-17 ahead in the third set before Cuba closed in and even reached set point first with an ace by sub Leon (one of his total four in the game) on Victor Poletaev, but Russia rallied to finish the match in three.
Dmitry Volkov and Jesus Herrera were joint top scorers of the game on 15 points each.
Dutch challenge Americans for Olympic spot
It's a similar story in Rotterdam, after both USA and the Netherlands remained undefeated on Saturday and will have to sort it out between themselves on Sunday to determine which of the two advances to Tokyo 2020.
The Netherlands swept neighbour rivals Belgium 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-20) with Nimir Abdel-Aziz spearheading their attack on a 68% (19/28) efficiency and bagging a match-high 21 points. The hosts both outblocked (10 to 2) and outserved (5 to 4) Belgium.
A little later, USA cruised past Korea 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-16) with Aaron Russll leading the way as the Americans totally outplayed their opponents across the board.
Brazil up against Bulgaria for one Olympic ticket
Defending Olympic champions Brazil are up against pool hosts Bulgaria Sunday in Varna in a straightforward clash to decide the one team to get a ticket to the Olympic Games. They both scored straight-set victories on Saturday to stay undefeated.
Brazil downed Egypt 3-0 (25-12, 25-19, 25-14) with the triplet of Yoandy Leal, Mauricio Silva and Wallace De Souza bringing in 13, 12 and 11 points respectively, as the South Americans produced far more efficient attacking - 65% (46/71) to just 30% (21/71).
Bulgaria followed suit, pounding Puerto Rico from the service line for 12 aces that led to a 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-12) sweep.
Rozalin Penchev with 15 points, alongside Martin Atanasov (4 aces) and Tsvetan Sokolov (3 aces) on 12 apiece, led the scoring for Bulgaria.
Italy narrowly avoid disaster
Italy will fight for the ticket to Tokyo 2020 from the Bari pool, but only after surviving a massive scare in the hands of Australia before just scraping past the 'Volleyroos' 3-2 (21-25, 25-19, 24-26, 25-17, 15-13) and staying undefeated in dramatic fashion.
The two sides were neck-and-neck in the tie-break until 12-12, but a service error by Arshdeep Dosanjh followed by a block from Simone Giannelli on Samuel Walker allowed Italy to open a two-point gap. That proved enough for them to sideout on their first chance with Osmany Junatorena successfully attacking against the block of James Weir to save the day for the hosts.
Juantorena was Italy's best scorer on 22 points, but Lincoln Williams was top scorer of the game with 27, as the 'Azzuri' relied on their blocking to stay alive with a total of 18 stuffs - eight of those by Matteo Piano.
Previously in Bari, Drazen Luburic had scored 14 points to inspire a Serbia win over Cameroon 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-13) that left the Balkan side also undefeated.
Quick links - Volleyball:
FIVB.com - Tokyo Volleyball Qualification
FIVB.com - Volleyball