‘Olympic qualifier’ VNL… Korea to get hint of breakthrough

The battle lines are drawn ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifiers in September 2023. The FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL), which kicks off on 30 April, is set to get even more intense.

This is the fifth edition of the VNL this year. The former World Grand Prix was replaced by the VNL in 2018, and four editions have been held, not including the cancellation of the 2019 edition due to COVID-19. Three times since its inception, the United States has won the title, and last year, Italy won its first VNL title.

This year, a total of 16 teams will be competing. The teams are categorised into core and challenger groups. Eleven teams, including South Korea, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Serbia, Thailand, Turkiye, and the United States, are core teams. Five teams are Challengers: Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Dominican Republic, and Poland. The lowest-ranked Challenger team will be relegated to the Challenger Cup, while the winner of this year’s Challenger Cup will qualify for next year’s VNL. Last year, South Korea finished last out of 16 teams, but avoided relegation because they were part of the core. Instead, Belgium, who finished last among the challengers, were relegated, while Croatia are new to the VNL this year.

Thirteen of the teams in this year’s VNL have appeared in four consecutive VNLs, with the exception of Bulgaria, Canada (two or more) and Croatia (zero). The same goes for South Korea. However, South Korea’s best result at the event is 12th place. Poland and the Dominican Republic are challengers, but they are highly competitive and have consistently performed well.

The qualification format is the same as last year. Weeks 1 to 3 will be played, with eight teams competing in each week at different venues. Week 1 will be played in Turkiye Antalya and Nagoya, Japan; Week 2 in Hong Kong and Brasilia, Brazil; and Week 3 in Suwon, South Korea and Bangkok, Thailand. Korea will return home to finish the VNL qualifiers at Anbang after travelling to Turkiye and Brazil. The final stage is set for Arlington, USA, starting with the quarter-final tournament.

The top eight teams from the qualifiers will book their tickets to the finals. The top seven teams, excluding Final hosts the United States, will qualify for the tournament. A cross-tournament will complete the quarter-final bracket based on the qualification rankings. Over the past four editions, only 10 teams have reached the final stage. They are: USA, Brazil, and Turkiye (4 times), China (3 times), Serbia, Italy, Japan (2 times), Netherlands, Thailand, and Poland (1 time).

The VNL usually starts in late May. This puts a lot of pressure on players from major European club teams whose seasons end in May. Aside from their ace players, national teams would often field a team of younger players who hadn’t had the opportunity to play in the VNL. After the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the FIVB awarded ranking points to the VNL and changed the selection criteria for the Paris Olympics, increasing the importance of the rankings. Since then, teams have started to recruit the best members of the VNL.

What’s more, the Olympic qualifiers will take place in September this year. Six tickets to the Paris Olympics are up for grabs. A total of 24 teams will take part in the Olympic Qualifiers. Fifteen of them are from the VNL, minus Croatia. In Group C of the Olympic Qualifiers, South Korea will compete against Poland, Italy, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Colombia, and Slovenia. The top two teams will be awarded Olympic tickets.

Korea will also face the USA, Thailand, and Poland in the VNL. It’s a great opportunity to analyse your opponents and go head-to-head. The situation is the same for other teams. As the first international tournament of the year, the VNL is a chance to get to know each team’s player mix, team colours, strengths and weaknesses.

South Korea is in its second season with Cesar after the Tokyo Olympics. They are currently ranked 23rd in the FIVB rankings. With speed as their weapon, the team is determined to accumulate as many wins as possible in the VNL and showcase more complete performances and results at the Asian Championships, Olympic Qualification and the Hangzhou Asian Games. 먹튀검증

Korea’s goal is to qualify for a fourth consecutive Olympic Games. However, objectively, the bar looks high. The team will look to the VNL for hints of a breakthrough.

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