Lausanne, Switzerland, June 7, 2016 – The FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix began with a bang over the weekend, with Group 2 and 3 kicking things off in four cities around the world.
Although there are still two weekends of preliminary round action remaining for both groups, here are some of the issues which were learned following the conclusion of the first weekend.
1. Puerto Rico riding Rio 2016 qualification wave
If someone told Puerto Rico four weeks ago that they would soon be earning a berth to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as well as second in the World Grand Prix Group 2 standings, they may well have looked on in disbelief. But here they are, just under a month later, and that is where they find themselves.
Fresh off the back of that astonishing result in front of their home fans that saw them qualify for a first ever Olympics, the Caribbean side sealed three wins on the opening weekend of the tournament to put themselves into contention for a ticket to the Finals in Plovodiv, Bulgaria. Their five-set thriller with last year’s Group 2 silver medallists Poland may have given them a scare, but coming through the match – and the weekend – unbeaten will have boosted their confidence as they head to Wloclawek to clash with the Poles again.
2. Group 2 baptism of fire for Kenya
While Puerto Rico were plotting their path to the Finals, Kenya were struggling to keep up the pace in Pool A2 in Tucuman, Argentina. The side picked up Africa’s first ever international trophy when they claimed the Group 3 gold medal in 2015, but that seemed like a lifetime ago to the side as they went down to the hosts, Bulgaria and the Dominican Republic without winning a set to leave them bottom of the Group.
The side are in a state of re-growth as they look to develop a team that can challenge for qualification to Tokyo 2020 after missing out on a Rio 2016 place, but they travel to Wloclawek in desperate need of a confidence boost.
3. Peru paving way to Finals
Peru were one match away from Group 2 in 2015, with just Kenya standing in their way. They had lost just one match throughout their campaign and were above Kenya in the Preliminary Round standings.
But it was not to be.
The side lost in four agonising sets and remained in Group 3.
However, after the opening weekend, it looks like they are trying to get it right for 2016. The side topped Pool A3, lost just one set and ended the weekend leading the charge in the standings. Will it be second-time lucky for Mauro Marasciulo’s side? Potentially, but to do so they may need to go through…
4. A resurrected Croatia mounting a comeback?
The 2015 World Grand Prix was a tough one for Croatia. The side failed to win a match in Group 2, taking only five sets from their six games.
But 2016 is already looking much better for the world No.21 after dropping down to Group 3. They won all three of their Pool B3 matches, seeing off Colombia, Cuba and hosts Australia with ease and with just one set dropped, may feel they have a chance at silverware. Could they book their place in a World Grand Prix Finals for a first time and bounce straight back up to Group 2?
5. Australia searching for a way to win
Australia would have been feeling good going into their home ties with Colombia, Cuba and the aforementioned Croatia. Having never won a game since their 2014 debut, the world No.41 would have been confident that, with home support, they could have challenged for a victory.
But three matches later and they have just one set to show for their hard work. They pushed Cuba close in their second match, with two sets going to 27-25 for the NORCECA side. But they are still to notch up win number 1 and now travel to Cali, Colombia for the next leg of their journey.