As many as 15 of the 16 teams that recently played in the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 will be in action on the international volleyball stage again as participants in the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship 2022, starting later this month in Poland and Slovenia.
VNL teams to watch at Poland-Slovenia 2022
What we learned from the VNL ahead of the Men’s World Championship
Published 07:00, 07 Aug 2022
The VNL had its finalists, medallists and winners, but we also learned how level the international playing field is, with the participants constantly challenged by their rivals.
Reigning Olympic champions France demonstrated how many options they have, with a choice of players in each position. Coach Andrea Giani relied on a variety of line-ups to surprise his team's opponents. But even such a great team lost a quarter of their matches in the Preliminary Phase, before going unbeaten through the Finals to claim the VNL crown.
Earvin Ngapeth provided that spark of creativity, but it’s worth pointing out that middle blocker Nicolas Le Goff was not on the court during two of the three matches France lost in the VNL. Giani might want to consider keeping him in play whenever they are in a must-win situation at the World Championship.
Runners-up USA had a solid performance in the VNL, even in the absence of star players like Matthew Anderson and Taylor Sander. They played on an equal footing against world champions Poland and Olympic champs France and exchanged victories with them.
While they lost to Poland during the Preliminary Phase and beat them at the Finals, it was the other way around against France. In both matches against France, USA were behind but showed stamina to go five. They won the first tie-breaker, but when it mattered the most, in the final, they did not take advantage of the two sets they had just won before going into the fifth. It was a surprise, because the Americans had won all three of their five-setters in the Preliminary Phase. It is now up to coach John Speraw and his staff to figure out what went wrong in that gold medal tie-breaker. Regardless, the American team will be among the medal contenders again at Poland-Slovenia 2022.
Poland showed consistency even when they played with a line-up which was not complete. In fact, without Wilfredo Leon, who is recovering from surgery, they were never in their optimal line-up. Still, their captain and 2018 World Championship MVP Bartosz Kurek once again proved how essential his leadership is. However, during the VNL and especially at the Finals in Bologna, another member of the team, outside hitter Kamil Semeniuk, who is only in his second season with the national team, established himself as a truly reliable player in the key moments to be counted on in all spiking, blocking and serving.
Italy have a young, but very ambitious squad. As hosts of the VNL Finals in Bologna, they were guaranteed a spot among the top eight, but they were obviously keen to prove that they belonged by virtue of their performances on the court. So they went ahead and won the Preliminary Phase, topping the standings after losing only two of their 12 matches. When it came to the Finals, however, the Italians failed to win a single set. If the youngsters simply could not handle the pressure of playing in front of full-house home crowd, at least they will not have the same problem in Poland and Slovenia.
Japan are definitely on the rise. They do not just compete with the best teams in the world - they are one of the best teams in the world. They finished fifth in the Preliminary Phase, dropping only three games along the way, with the same win-loss record as champions-to-be France, and just a point short. Their improvement was founded on a couple of fantastic key players, Yuki Ishikawa and Yuji Nishida. The latter was not on the court in two of the three matches Japan lost, showing how important he is to the team. But it was the entire squad that excelled during the matches they won.
Defending champions Brazil did not even make it to the semifinals of the 2021 VNL. Their sixth-place finish on an 8-5 win-loss record was below expectations, and several reasons can be put forward including the absence of 2021 MVP Wallace de Souza and the injury of Alan Souza halfway through the tournament. But anyone drawing a conclusion that mighty Brazil will not be among the main contenders at the World Championship is likely to be mistaken.
Iran lost four of their first five matches in the VNL, but then greatly improved their results, even beat two of the medalists-to-be and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they pushed world champs Poland to five sets again, only this time losing the tie-breaker to narrowly miss out on the semis. Their lesson to the rest of the world: the country’s greatest player in history Saeid Marouf may have retired from the national team, but the national team is still here, ready to fight and continue the journey... And perhaps a new star was born in opposite Amin Esmaeilnezhad, who made a brilliant first appearance with the Iranian jersey in a world-level competition at the age of 25.
It’s nothing new, but the Netherlands have Nimir Abdel-Aziz, and that makes them dangerous. Perhaps the best scorer, best attacker and best server of the Preliminary Phase was just having a bad day when the Dutch played Italy in the quarterfinals. It was the only VNL match he played when he did not score an ace. Who knows? Could the Dutch have been on the podium…?
Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallists Argentina had ups and downs and narrowly missed the VNL Finals. It is up to coach Marcelo Mendez and his staff to figure out what caused the downs, and also why their team did not win any of the three tie-breakers they played in the VNL. One thing is for sure: the problem is not with the libero position, because Santiago Danani topped the VNL Preliminary Phase charts for both digging and reception.
As newcomers to the VNL, Slovenia did surprisingly well to finish fourth in 2021, so their 10th place in 2022 was definitely a step back. It is hard to tell what the causes were. Perhaps they were just holding back their energy to erupt in full power during the World Championship at home in Ljubljana.
It is safe to say that Serbia did not perform as well as they could have at the VNL 2022. With the bright constellation of players on their roster, they should and could have done better than 11th place. What was missing? Perhaps a more solid dose of that famous Serbian fighting spirit and... Uros Kovacevic. At the World Championship, we will see if his return has a positive impact.
It became clear that Germany need their star players to be competitive at the highest level. Prominent opposite Gyorgy Grozer will not be back for the World Championship, but other top players like Lukas Kampa, Simon Hirsch and Ruben Schott should be present...
China did not do so well in VNL 2022 and took 13th place, but they did one important thing. They beat Brazil in Brazil! In straight sets, that is! If they could do that, then they can do anything... And they have an amazing 22-year-old striker in Zhang Jingyin to lead the way.
Just like Argentina, a very young Bulgarian squad failed to win any of the three tie-breakers they played in the VNL, but achieved what they had set out to do – preserve the team’s place in next year’s edition. A new star of international volleyball, 18-year-old Aleksandar Nikolov, made his mark. The Balkan Lions also had the best blocker of the Preliminary Phase, Svetoslav Gotsev, on their squad. With experienced Tsvetan Sokolov and Todor Skrimov returning to lead the talented young hopefuls at the World Championship, Bulgaria will once again be a team to watch.
Canada played the VNL with a squad quite different to the one they reached the Olympic quarterfinals last year with. They picked up a couple of wins, just enough to survive in the VNL for next season, but not enough to unveil their full potential. The World Championship will offer them another opportunity to do so.