After a pandemic-prompted break of two years, the Volleyball Challenger Cup returned in 2022 with a new format and two new winners. The women’s national team of Croatia and the men’s national team of Cuba topped the respective podiums in Zadar and Seoul to take the trophies and book their spots in Volleyball Nations League 2023.
Year in Review: Croatia and Cuba win historic Volleyball Challenger Cup titles
The Cuban men and the Croatian ladies earn the right to compete in the VNL for the first time
Published 08:00, 30 Dec 2022
The two tournaments of the Volleyball Challenger Cup’s third edition took place simultaneously, from July 28 through 31, with eight participating teams per gender representing all five continental confederations and competing under a direct knockout formula of quarterfinals, semifinals and medal matches.
In the most interesting women’s quarterfinal in Croatia, Colombia squeezed out a hard-earned five-set victory over next Olympic hosts France after 16-14 in the tie-breaker. The other quarterfinals were quite straight-forward, with Belgium and Croatia shutting out the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, respectively, and Cameroon forfeiting their game against Puerto Rico.
The tournament's remaining matches were decided in four-set duels. Belgium came back from a set down to defeat Colombia in the first semifinal. Hosts Croatia also advanced to the final after a 3-1 win over Puerto Rico. The Caribbean squad took the bronze in a tight battle against the South Americans and then it was time for the big final.
On one side of the net, it was the Croatians, who had waited for three years to host this tournament hoping to delight the home crowd by qualifying for the VNL. On the other, it was the Belgians, who had won a third of their games in VNL 2022, but still finished as the lowest placed Challenger team.
Still, the Belgian outside topped the best scorers’, the best attackers’ and the best servers’ charts of the tournament. Her total tally of 80 points included seven aces. Fabris was the second best scorer with 75 points to her name, while her teammate Bozana Butigan impressed with 14 kill blocks across three matches played, five clear of the tournament’s next best blocker.
“It was amazing to do it in front of so many of our fans! We had our goal, we had our dream and we came here knowing it was going to be hard. But we were ready to fight and earn our place among the best in the VNL. I’m really proud of my team and the coaching staff, but also of the organisers, because everything was perfect.” Samanta Fabris, opposite and captain of Croatia, VCC 2022 gold medallist
Australia were the team that had fallen out of the men’s VNL 2022 and had to look for their way back through the VCC in South Korea. Their hopes, however, were dashed on the first competition day, when the home team knocked them out in a hard-fought five-setter, the most interesting of the four quarterfinals.
In the other three, Türkiye and the Czech Republic eliminated Qatar and Tunisia, respectively, in four sets each, while Cuba mastered a clean sweep of Chile.
The Cubans continued their perfect run into the semifinals, where they shut out the Czechs. The Turks disappointed the home crowd in another straight-set affair against Korea.
The hosts persevered through a five-set saga in the third place match to take the bronze and not leave their fans completely empty-handed. The Czech Republic came back from two sets down, winning the next two by the narrowest of margins, to prompt a fifth, which was pushed deep into overtime before the Koreans could celebrate victory after 22-20 in the tie-breaker.
Despite the absence of injured key players like Robertlandy Simon, Livan Osoria and Marlon Yant, Cuba pushed all the way to the top of the podium after failing to do so at the previous two editions of the Volleyball Challenger Cup. In the big final, they coped with the resistance of a strong Turkish team on the way to a 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20) victory. Outside hitter and captain Miguel Lopez led Cuba with 20 points, while Turkish opposite Adis Lagumdzija produced a match-high 22 points.
Lagumdzija also topped the best scorers’ chart of the tournament on a total of 64 points. Türkiye’s Faik Gunes was the best blocker on 10 stuffs, Korea’s Heo Subong was the best spiker on 54 kills, while two Cubans, Osniel Melgarejo and Miguel Lopez shared the best server honours on six aces apiece.
“We’re very excited and honoured that we were able to bring Cuba to the VNL. It’s the third time we compete in the VCC and this time we were finally able to win it! Fortunately, we were able to maintain our focus the entire time and that was one of the keys for us.” Miguel Lopez, outside hitter and captain of Cuba, VCC 2022 gold medallist