Poland (POL) vs. Argentina (ARG) men - Pool C #7271498

The two highest ranked teams in Pool C of the men’s FIVB Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifiers met in Xi’an on Friday. With a brilliant Wilfredo Leon leading the way, the world’s number one team Poland achieved a four-set victory over sixth-ranked Argentina to stay unbeaten on top of the current pool standings in China. Meanwhile, Canada shut out Bulgaria to knock them out of contention and stay above the cut-off line for the Olympics, while Belgium made sure to follow close behind with a straight-set win over winless Mexico.

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Reigning Volleyball Nations League and European champions Poland managed a hard-fought victory over Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallists Argentina to lead the table on a 5-0 win-loss record and 13 points, pushing the opponents down to fourth on 3-2 and eight.

In the first set, the Poles recovered from a five-set deficit to squeeze out a tight set win. They were close to achieving the exact same plight in the second, but this time the Argentineans managed to take the set by the narrowest of margins and level the match. In the third set, the Europeans opened up a 16-10 gap, but now the South Americans fought their way back to push the set to overtime, but not to a complete turnaround as Poland took the lead again. After 12-12 in the fourth set, the Poles stepped in front for good and built nicely to a 25-20 close.

Argentina slightly outattacked Poland (53-52 in spike kills) and they were level in blocking (11-11 in stuffs), but Poland’s serving made the big difference in the match with nine aces against only three for the opponents. Poland’s outside hitter Wilfredo Leon produced a match-high 23 points, including three aces and three blocks, while spiking at a 55% success rate. Opposite Lukasz Kaczmarek contributed 15 points, including the match winner, while middle blocker Norbert Huber and captain Aleksander Sliwka added 12 points apiece. Argentinean middle Agustin Loser impressed with five kill blocks to lead his team’s scorers with 13 points. Opposite Bruno Lima and outside Luciano Palonsky finished with 11 each.

In the first match of the day in Xi’an, Canada mastered their fourth win in the pool, relieving Bulgaria of any hopes for a ticket to Paris with an emphatic shutout. On a 4-1 win-loss record and just a point below Poland, the North Americans stand second in the pool table, while the southern Europeans are down to sixth on 2-3 and six. Outside Stephen Maar led the way with 16 points, including three blocks and an ace. His cross-court teammate Eric Loeppky added another 13, while opposite Arthur Szwarc scored 11 times in the match.

"We played quite a solid game, making very few mistakes in our attack," said Canada’s head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo. "It’s a good result and now we will recover and concentrate on the next game."

And Canada’s next game, against Belgium on Saturday morning, could prove crucial as taking the three points would send the North Americans off packing for Paris. Belgium are just below Canada in the standings, in third place on 3-2 and 11, and if they beat the opponents by a wide enough margin, they would take over the runner-up spot above the cut-off line before the last competition day on Sunday, when Argentina could have their say as well. On Friday, Belgium cruised to a convincing shutout of Mexico with 19 points from opposite Ferre Reggers, 13 from captain Sam Deroo and another 11 from outside Mathijs Desmet, while Mauro Fuentes put away 15 points for the North Americans.

In the last match of the day, two teams without any chances of finishing among the top two engaged in a five-set battle. The Netherlands took away a win over hosts China to rise to fifth place, above Bulgaria on set ratio, and leave the home team next-to-last on 1-4 and four. Opposite Thijs Ter Horst topped the scorers’ chart of the match with 21 points, all in attack. Outside Wouter Ter Maat added another 18, while captain Jiang Chuan was China’s leading scorer with 16 points.