Poland (POL) vs. Netherlands (NED) men - Pool C #7283256

To no one’s surprise, Poland became the first team to qualify for next year’s Summer Olympic Games from Pool C of the men’s FIVB Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifiers. The world’s number one team continued their winning streak in Xi’an on Saturday with a four-set win over the Netherlands to become untouchable on top of the pool standings. It will be the 11th time the Poles compete at the Olympics. Historically, they have been on the podium once, with the Montreal 1976 gold.

In the most anticipated match of the day, Belgium put a stop to Canada’s rise and got into the best position for attacking the second qualifying spot on Sunday’s last competition day.

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Canada were in a position to qualify for Paris after the first match on Saturday’s programme in Xi’an, had they taken a three-point win over Belgium. Instead, the Europeans came out strong to emerge with a victory and edge forward to the second place in the table, just above the cut-off line, ahead of their last match against Bulgaria on the last competition day. Both Belgium and Canada are on 4-2 win-loss records, but the European team has 14 points, against the North Americans’ 12. In their last match in Xi’an, the Canadians will meet winless Mexico.

Canada (CAN) vs. Belgium (BEL) men - Pool C #7281982

Belgium’s blocking made the big difference in the match against Canada

Belgium had a really convincing start to the match against Canada, totally dominating the first set to take the lead. The North Americans, however, took control of the second set and drew level. The third offered an epic battle, in which Canada came back from six points down to push it to overtime, but wasted three set points, before a kill block from middle Wout D’heer ended it at 30-28 Belgium’s way. With a great psychological advantage to their side, the Belgians cruised on to win the fourth set and the game, with opposite Ferre Reggers swinging for the match winner.

Captain Sam Deroo raised five of Belgium’s 18 kill blocks in the game to finish with a match-high 20 points. Reggers added another 18 for the winners, while outside hitter Mathijs Desmet finished with 17. His counterpart Stephen Maar led Canada with 19 points.

"Today Belgium was a lot better than us,” said Canada’s head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo. "We created the opportunities to take the third set and that would have meant a lot, but we didn’t make the most of them and Belgium deserved to win."

Reigning Volleyball Nations League and European champions Poland bounced back from losing the first set against the Netherlands and claimed a victory, which was enough to consolidate themselves as eventual pool winners, currently standing on top of the table on 6-0 and 16 points. Outside Wilfredo Leon led Poland with 21 points, including three aces and two blocks. Opposite Lukasz Kaczmarek added another 18, while middle Jakub Kochanowski finished with 11. Dutch outside Thijs Ter Horst produced the match high of 22 points.

In the last match of the day, Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallists Argentina achieved a victory over hosts China. Had they not lost at least one of those two sets, the South Americans would have still had a mathematical shot at the second place, but now, standing fourth on 4-2 and 10 points, they are no longer in contention. Chinese captain Jiang Chuan was the best scorer of the match with 23 points, including three blocks. Opposite Pablo Koukartsev and outside Luciano Vicentin finished with 22 points apiece on Argentina’s side.

Bulgaria played their sixth consecutive straight-setter since the start of the tournament. This time, against winless Mexico, they were on the winning end of a shutout. The Europeans stand fifth in the table on a neutral record of three wins and three losses and 9-9 in sets. Playing as an opposite, Asparuh Asparuhov contributed a match-high 21 points towards the victory.