Poland, Czechia, Finland and Estonia will play hosts to the men’s 2021 CEV Volleyball European Championship, ready to get underway on Wednesday and last through September 19 when the coveted continental trophy finds its new laureate at the gold medal match to be held at the Spodek hall in Katowice.

Europe’s top 24 teams are split into four pools of six to be played in Krakow, Ostrava, Tampere and Tallinn. After a single round-robin tournament in each pool, the top four teams in the standings will advance to the eighthfinals to be played in Gdansk/Sopot and Ostrava. Once another 12 of these squads have been eliminated, the ones who survive the grind will get together in Katowice for the final-four showdown, consisting of the two semifinals, the bronze medal match and the final. In addition to their spots on the EuroVolley podium, the two finalists will earn the right to compete at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball World Championship in Russia.

Pool A: World and European champions set for an early encounter

The draw has sent defending European champions of Serbia to the pool of reigning world champions and hosts Poland. While it will be interesting how this early clash of EuroVolley 2019 MVP Uros Kovacevic and the rest of the Serbian stars with 2018 World Championship MVP Bartosz Kurek, reinforced by arguably the world’s best player, Wilfredo Leon, will play out, it is pretty safe to say that both teams will advance to the elimination rounds and another, more important encounter between them is possible later in the tournament. Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Ukraine are the remaining participants in Pool A in Krakow.

Pool B: Italy and Slovenia highlight participant list in Ostrava

Six-time European champions Italy, the most decorated team in the history of the competition, other than the Soviet Union, and one of the continent’s representatives at the recent Olympic tournament at Tokyo 2020, are the favourites to top the final standings in Pool B in Ostrava. Led by setter Simone Giannelli, the Italians are in the company of EuroVolley 2019 finalists and VNL 2021 semifinalists Slovenia, hosts Czechia, as well as Belarus, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

Pool C: Russia without Mikhaylov still among favourites

Russia, whose historic EuroVolley tally boasts as many as 14 titles (including the Soviet Union’s 12), arrive in their head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo’s native Finland without Tokyo 2020’s Best Opposite Maxim Mikhaylov, but even so, Olympic Dream Teamers and silver medallists Ivan Iakovlev and Egor Kliuka and their teammates are expected to dominate Pool C in Tampere. Their opposition includes the squads of the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Spain, Turkey and hosts Finland.

Pool D: First battles for new reigning Olympic champs France

Just weeks after their triumph at Tokyo 2020, France will get into battle again, for the first time in the role of reigning Olympic champions. Despite Bernando Rezende taking over from Laurent Tillie as the new head coach of the team, 10 of the 12 players who earned the gold medals in Japan have been included in the roster for EuroVolley 2021, including Tokyo 2020 MVP Earvin Ngapeth. In Tallinn, the French will contest their pool matches against Croatia, Germany, Latvia, Slovakia and hosts Estonia.