Lausanne, Switzerland, June 28, 2016 - The FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Finals line-up was completed over the weekend. Here are five things we learned on the final week of the Preliminary round.
1. USA in show of power ahead of Rio 2016
USA topped the standings after completion of pool play (though with just an ever so slight edge over China and Russia) ahead of the World Grand Prix Finals.
It was a show of power for the defending champions, as they prepare for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where they seek the one major title that’s been eluding them.
However, not since 2008 has the winner of the World Grand Prix in an Olympic year gone on to claim gold at the Games. It was Brazil who managed the feat, in Beijing 2008.
2. The Netherlands back qualification to Rio 2016 with WGP finals berth
The Netherlands proved they’re the up-and-coming force to be reckoned with, after advancing to the Finals.
Led by Lonneke Sloetjes, the second-best scorer of Group 1 (just a point shy of leader Nataliya Goncharova of Russia) the Netherlands secured their ticket to Bangkok with a win over arch rivals Germany.
This comes on the back of their qualification to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games last month.
It also assures the Dutch of their best ranking in the World Grand Prix in seven years, after finishing fourth in 2009.
3. Russia striking force enhanced with performance of Tatiana Kosheleva
Tatiana Kosheleva’s striking return to action over the last two weekends gave Russia a huge boost as the 28-year-old beautifully complemented Nataliya Goncharova’s top form.
Kosheleva, who had been out of action for a prolonged period due to an ankle injury, has come back with her usual killing skills, plus some impressive blocking in last weekend’s pool in Kyoto.
She helped Russia tie with USA and China on 8-1 records, ahead of the World Grand Prix Finals in Bangkok, as the reigning European champions eye their first gold in the competition since 2002.
4. Serbia miss out on Finals, but look ahead to Rio 2016
For the third year running, after claiming bronze in 2013, Serbia failed to make it through to the World Grand Prix Finals, despite finishing completing their last pool in the preliminary phase undefeated.
But judging from the lineups over the duration of pool play, coach Zoran Terzic clearly has other things on his mind –obviously looking ahead to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The 49-year-old said as much at the post-match Press Conference, after Serbia beat Thailand in straight sets in Kyoto: “The girls just want to go home now and rest a little bit after these three tournaments before we continue our preparations for the Olympic Games.”
5. China remain at the forefront after impressive pool play run
In a sort of ‘quiet’ way, China remained very much on track for returning to the World Grand Prix podium for the first time since their 2013 silver medal.
Lang Ping’s side lost to defending champions USA in straight sets on the closing day of their Hong Kong pool, but finished on par with the Americans (and the Russians) at the top of the overall standings.
With Ting Zhu leading the team from the outside, but more importantly, some astounding blocking by Ni Yan and Yunli Xu, China are certainly poised to beat any opponent any day.