Despite a defeat to Italy in their last Preliminary Phase match on Sunday, the Netherlands held on to their eighth place and secured the final spot in the Volleyball Nations League 2022 Finals, setting up four exciting matchups for the quarterfinals in Bologna, Italy.
Brazil and USA to cross paths in VNL quarterfinals
The other quarterfinals will feature Italy vs. the Netherlands, Poland vs. Iran and France vs. Japan
Published 04:32, 11 Jul 2022
Dutch and Italians will meet again in less than two weeks in one of the four quarterfinals of the event, with the other three encounters reuniting reigning world champions Poland and Asian champions Iran, reigning VNL champions Brazil and three-time Olympic champions the United States and reigning Olympic champions France and Asian powerhouse Japan.
Two quarterfinal matches will open the Finals in Bologna on July 20 (USA vs Brazil at 18.00 local time/16.00 GMT and Italy vs the Netherlands at 21.00 local time/19.00 GMT), with the two others to follow on the next day (France vs. Japan at 18.00 local time/16.00 GMT and Poland vs Iran at 21.00 local time/19.00 GMT). After a day off, the event will continue on July 23 with the semifinals and come to an end with the medal matches on July 24.
Reigning champions Brazil will have a challenging path to successfully defend their 2021 VNL title, starting in the quarterfinals with one of their fiercest rivals. Brazilians and Americans have a long-standing rivalry, having met in two Olympic gold medal matches and several other key matches over the last few decades.
The Americans, who ended the Preliminary Phase in third place with ten wins and two losses, were one of four teams to defeat Brazil so far, topping the South Americans in four sets in front of their home fans in Brasilia during the opening week of the VNL. Last year, at the Tokyo Olympics, however, the Brazilians defeated USA by the same score.
The second-best team in the Preliminary Phase with ten wins and just two losses, Poland will try to improve on the silver medal they won in 2021. Despite the absence of injured star outside hitter Wilfredo Leon, the Poles have had no issues maintaining their form, with opposite Bartosz Kurek and outside hitters Aleksander Sliwka and Kamil Semeniuk stepping up to produce for the team in big moments.
One of the key points for the Poles against Iran will be containing 25-year-old opposite Amin Esmaeilnezhad. Playing in the VNL for the first time in his career, he has helped the Asians win seven of their 12 Preliminary Phase matches and rank seventh with his 193 points, the second-highest mark in the entire tournament. He was arguably one of the main reasons for one of the two Polish losses so far, leading Iran to a surprising 3-2 win just a few days ago in Gdansk.
Dutch player Nimir Abdel-Aziz is another high-scoring opposite who will have a key role for his team in the quarterfinals. The top scorer (231 points), top hitter (191) and top server (30) of the VNL so far, he’ll need to be at his absolute best for the Netherlands to be able to challenge Italy, after the Dutch ended the Preliminary Phase with six wins and six losses.
The Italians played their first 12 matches in the VNL 2022 without pressure, knowing they had a place guaranteed in the Finals, as the hosts, but won ten to finish with the best campaign among the 16 teams. The reigning European champions will likely be even stronger in the Finals as they will play in front of their fans and have recently integrated star opposite Ivan Zaytsev to the team.
The fourth quarterfinal matchup should be another exciting one, reuniting France and Japan, two teams that ended the Preliminary Phase with similar campaigns of nine wins and three losses.
In the semifinals, the winners of Italy vs. Netherlands (Quarterfinal 1) will take on the winners of France vs. Japan (Quarterfinal 4), and the winners of Poland vs. Iran (Quarterfinal 2) will take on the winners of USA vs. Brazil (Quarterfinal 3).
At the bottom of the Preliminary Phase standings, Australia, who ended their campaign losing to France in straight sets on Sunday, finished as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament with one win and two points and will need to win this year’s Volleyball Challenger Cup to earn a spot in the VNL 2023.