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World Grand Prix: Group 1 teams enter the fray

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 8, 2016 - Following the start of action in Preliminary Round Groups 2 and 3 last weekend, this week sees the twelve teams in Group 1, including defending champions USA, join the contest to win the 24th edition of the FIVB World Grand Prix.

A record 42 matches are scheduled at seven tournaments around the world this weekend, which make up the most important annual competition in women’s volleyball. And the best news is: the matches will be streamed on the FIVB’s YouTube channel.

The four teams to progress from each of Preliminary Round Groups 2 and 3 will be decided this weekend. However, there will be a particular focus on the Group 1 matches in the Olympic host city of Rio de Janeiro, which come less than two months before the start of the Summer Games.

All four of the teams in Rio – hosts Brazil, Italy, Japan and Serbia – will also be at the Olympics. The clash between double Olympic champions Brazil and Italy kicks off the second week of the FIVB World Grand Prix on Thursday. “This tournament is the most important test for us before we go for Olympic gold again in Rio,” said Brazilian coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes. His team, which is littered with stars, recently won two friendly matches against the Dominican Republic.

Preview Week 2

Brazil’s three opponents on the first of three Group 1 Preliminary Round weekends, led by last year’s FIVB World Cup runners-up Serbia, are in a different league, however.

Attention will also focus on the battle between reigning champions USA and Brazil at this year's FIVB World Grand Prix. The two nations have shared eight titles in this prestigious competition since 2008. Last year, USA took full advantage of playing the Finals at home to claim their sixth title, and they are now determined to defend it successfully. “The focus is obviously on the Olympics this year, but the FIVB World Grand Prix offers the perfect opportunity to see where we stand,” said US coach Karch Kiraly, who has extended his contract through to 2020.

The US team recently prepared for the challenge it will face on the opening weekend of the FIVB World Grand Prix with internal matches within the squad.

Preview Week 2

USA will take on outsiders Germany, Group 1 Finals hosts Thailand, and China in Ningbo, China. The FIVB Women's World Cup winners are definitely among the favourites to succeed in this year’s FIVB World Grand Prix and then at the Olympic Games. Only time will tell whether rivals Russia can mount a challenge. In the run-up to the tournament, they had to cope with the shock retirements of global stars Ekaterina Gamova and Lioubov Sokolva.

Preview Week 2

The Russian team have home advantage in Kaliningrad on their opening Preliminary Round weekend, when they take on Turkey, Belgium and a Dutch team which is also qualified for the Olympics. The top five teams in the Preliminary Round progress to the Group 1 Finals in the FIVB World Grand Prix. These will be hosted for the very first time by Thailand, who also qualify automatically, from July 6 to 10.

In Groups 2 and 3, the Finals will take place on June 18-19 in Varna, Bulgaria (Group 2) and Almaty, Kazakhstan (Group 3). The host country plus the top three ranked teams after the Preliminary Round will qualify.

In Group 2, Puerto Rico – who have qualified for the Olympics and, like Finals hosts Bulgaria, have won all three matches so far – the Dominican Republic and Poland (who have both won two of three matches) are in the best position to progress. Poland have home advantage in Wloclawek this weekend. The Poles face two teams that have qualified for Rio - Puerto Rico and Argentina - and Kenya. The Kenyans were promoted to Group 2 this year and are yet to win a set.

In the second Group 2 tournament in Olomouc in the Czech Republic, the hosts (with just one win to their name so far) face Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic and Canada.

Excitement is also guaranteed in the final Preliminary Round weekend in Group 3. Peru, Croatia (both three wins) and former FIVB World Grand Prix winners Cuba (two wins) are favourites to reach the Finals, along with hosts Kazakhstan (also two wins).

However, the top three teams – Peru, Croatia and Cuba – meet at the Preliminary Round tournament in Chiclayo, Peru, where they are also joined by an Algerian team still looking for their first win. This offers Colombia (one win so far) a fine opportunity to claim one of the tickets to the Finals when they play Kazakhstan, Mexico and Australia on home soil in Cali.

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