Marko Podrascanin (SRB)

Two teams who are currently below the cut-off line for the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2022 Finals, but with a good chance of moving up and booking a trip to Bologna from July 20 to 24, will meet in Gdansk on Wednesday. Slovenia and Serbia will face each other at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) in a duel that could prove crucial in the race to the Finals.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Before starting their third-week campaigns in Poland, Serbia are ninth in the current standings on a 4-4 win-loss record and 11 points. Slovenia are 11th on 3-5 and 9. While the Slovenes lost their two most recent VNL matches in Quezon City, the momentum is on the Serbs’ side after they finished off their Sofia week with two wins in a row.

The two teams are frequent opponents in friendly matches, but it will be the seventh time they meet in official international competition. Serbia have won five of their previous six encounters. Slovenia’s only victory came at the 2013 CEV European Championship, when they defeated the bronze-medallists-to-be in four sets. When they met in the EuroVolley 2019 final, Serbia triumphed after a 3-1 (19-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-20) comeback, with star opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic leading the scorers on 22 points.

Serbia and Slovenia also crossed ways at last year’s VNL in Rimini. On May 28, 2021, the Serbs won 3-1 (22-25, 25-18, 36-34, 25-18), again coming back from a set down, with Drazen Luburic leading the way on 29 points. Opposite Toncek Stern and outside hitter and captain Tine Urnaut scored 14 each for Slovenia. Despite this negative start, the Slovenes went on to finish the Preliminary Phase in third place on a 12-3 win-loss record and advance to the semifinals, while the Serbs took the sixth place on 10-5.

Both the Serbian and the Slovenian squads this week in Gdansk were reinforced by players who missed the first two competition weeks of VNL 2022. They include 2.05m-tall 23-year-old opposite Bozidar Vucicevic on the Serbian side and 2.02m-tall 30-year-old outside hitter Klemen Cebulj in Slovenia’s line-up. The latter was a three-time EuroVolley silver medallist and the MVP of the 2019 Volleyball Challenger Cup, when Slovenia earned the right to compete in the VNL.

"After quite a long rest, it's nice to reunite with the national team. I am very happy to be here and be able to help the team towards the desired goal,” said Cebulj. “It is true that this goal will be difficult to achieve, but it will not be impossible. If we manage to get closer to the desired form and maintain it in three consecutive matches against the Serbs, the Bulgarians and the Iranians, we can hope for advancement to the Finals."

After Wednesday’s game against Serbia, in Gdansk, Slovenia will also meet Bulgaria on Thursday, Iran on Friday and hosts Poland on Sunday. Serbia’s programme includes matches against Italy on Friday, against Iran on Saturday and against China on Sunday.

Slovenia and Serbia will play in today’s last fixture. Earlier on Wednesday, the fans at the Ergo Arena will enjoy a meeting between the Netherlands and China. The day will start in Osaka with encounters between Brazil and Germany and between Japan and Australia.