The second competition day in the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 offers an exciting head-to-head clash between the reigning Olympic gold medallists and the reigning European champions. France and Italy will get their VNL campaigns underway as they meet in Ottawa on Wednesday at 19:30 local time (23:30 GMT).

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The two “blue” teams, Les Blues and Gli Azzurri, have previously met 144 times. The Italians won 76 of those encounters. 56 of the matches were part of major world-level competitions with Italy celebrating 35 victories.

The most recent game between France and Italy was played last year on June 17 in the VNL 2021 Preliminary Round in Rimini and was extended to five sets. France came back from a set down twice in that match, before Italy could finally rejoice with a 3-2 (25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 21-25, 15-20) win.

Eventually it was France that finished fourth in the Preliminary Round standings on an 11-4 win-loss record, made it to the Finals and claimed bronze, their second VNL medal, after the 2018 silver. Italy won seven of their 15 matches to take the 10th place in the final standings. They have yet to win their first medal in the competition.

Later in the 2021 season, both France and Italy conquered major international trophies. Les Blues triumphed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, where Italy finished sixth, and Gli Azzurri snatched the title at EuroVolley 2021, where France finished ninth.

France’s new head coach Andrea Giani of Italy will make his official debut on the job in Wednesday’s match against his compatriots. Hoping to achieve success, he will rely on the services of as many as seven Olympic champions. Tokyo 2020 MVP Earvin Ngapeth and Dream Team Middle Blocker Barthelemy Chinenyeze, as well as setter Antoine Brizard, opposites Jean Patry and Stephen Boyer and outside hitters Kevin Tillie and Yacine Louati, are on Giani’s list of 14 athletes for the week in Ottawa.

“We can't wait to start the competition,” said Brizard, who will captain the team this week. “We are all in slightly different shapes, depending on when we finished our club championships, but overall we're fine. The main objective is to implement Andrea Giani's ideas well, get to know each other well and get everything to work well together. Then, in terms of results, we want to win all the matches; that’s nothing new. But it's going to be hard as we face teams that play very good volleyball.”

Italy’s coach Ferdinando De Giorgi, on the other hand, has eight players from his EuroVolley gold medal squad travelling with him to the Canadian capital for this week’s VNL matches. In addition to setter and captain Simone Giannelli, who was named EuroVolley MVP, opposites Giulio Pinali and Yuri Romano, outsides Francesco Recine and Mattia Bottolo, middles Lorenzo Cortesia and Gianluca Galassi, and libero Alessandro Piccinelli are among those who will play in Ottawa this week.

“We will face four excellent opponents,” said De Giorgi. “It will be a fairly intense start against the Olympic champions, and it will certainly give us a strong motivation to give our best. Our first goal here in Canada is to come out on top in every game. We know that in this first phase the teams are not in their top shape yet, just like us, but we can certainly make up for it with the right attitude. We really tried to make the most of the time we had to prepare and I saw great responsibility and desire on the players’ part.”

After the game against France, Italy will take on world champions Poland on Thursday, hosts Canada on Saturday and Tokyo 2020 bronze medallists Argentina on Sunday. For weeks two and three, they will travel to Quezon City and Gdansk, respectively.

France’s schedule in Ottawa also includes matches against Serbia on Thursday, against Canada on Friday and against Poland on Sunday. Their next VNL trips will be to Quezon City and Osaka.