This year Bulgaria have the double honour of playing in the opening Volleyball Nations League 2022 matches in both genders. A week after the Bulgarian ladies got the women’s VNL underway with a game against Thailand in Ankara, it is their male compatriots’ turn to launch the men’s competition with a meeting with neighbours Serbia, set to start on Tuesday, June 7, at 16:30 local time (20:30 GMT) in Ottawa. Just half an hour later, action in the other pool, held in Brasilia, will begin with an all-Asian fixture between China and Iran.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

2021 VNL champions and world’s top-ranked Brazil will start the defence of their title at home as they welcome the Pool 1 participants to their nation’s capital. All four Asian representatives – Australia, China, Iran and Japan – will get together in that pool, in the company of USA and two European teams, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

At the same time, Canada will entertain Argentina and six European squads – Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Serbia.

Over the course of six competition days, from Tuesday through Sunday, each of the 16 teams will play four matches.

The first competition day in Brasilia will also feature an interesting encounter between last year’s semifinalists and EuroVolley silver medallists Slovenia and USA, who medalled at the previous two VNL editions. An edition of the Asian classic between Japan and China will highlight Wednesday’s programme in Brazil, while Saturday’s encounter between Japan and continental champs Iran will offer a remake of the 2021 Asian Championship final. The match that is likely to draw the most attention in Brasilia, however, is Friday’s gigantic clash between the hosts and USA.

Pool 2 hosts Canada will entertain Germany in Tuesday’s second match in Ottawa. Reigning world champions and 2021 VNL runners-up Poland will open their new VNL campaign on Wednesday with a game against Olympic bronze medallists and South American Games titleholders Argentina, right before Tokyo 2020 gold medallists France lock horns in a neighbourly clash with European champions Italy. Poland and Italy will meet on Thursday for another highlight in the Ottawa programme, while the super duel between the world and the Olympic champs will open the last competition day in the Canadian capital on Sunday.

This first competition week is one of the three that comprise the men’s Preliminary Round. All matches count towards the general standings, which will determine the seven teams to join hosts Italy at the Finals in Bologna from July 20 through 24.

The first 32 games of the women’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 were played in Shreveport-Bossier City and Ankara last week. Japan were the only team to go through the week unbeaten. They defeated all four of their opponents in Louisiana – Korea, Germany, the Dominican Republic and USA – to top the current standings. Seven teams finished on a 3-1 win-loss record each and they were China, United States, Türkiye, Serbia, Brazil, Thailand and Poland, in the order they stand in the table on points and set ratios.

Thailand were the pleasant surprise of the first week. They upset the teams of Bulgaria, Serbia and China, while their only defeat came after a five-set battle with Belgium. The team from South-East Asia achieved the highest jump of five positions in the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Ranking, up to number 14.

Canada and Italy won two and lost two games each. Germany, Belgium and Bulgaria claimed one victory apiece, while the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic and Korea failed to win any matches.

Belgium’s Britt Herbots was the most prolific point-maker of the week, topping the best scorers chart on a total of 100 points.