The 2023 men’s edition of the competition set to get underway in the Japanese city on Tuesday
After six days of high-calibre women’s volleyball and a one-day break, Nagoya braces itself for another six days of top-level action, this time involving eight of the best men’s national teams in the world, arriving in the Japanese city to get the men’s Volleyball Nations League 2023 underway with the Pool 2 matches in the first competition week of the Preliminary Phase. Meanwhile, the other eight VNL participants will start the race from Pool 1 in Ottawa, Canada.
The teams of Bulgaria and China will have the honour of getting the competition underway as they meet on Tuesday, June 6, at 16:10 local time (07:10 UTC) for the first of the 16 matches to be played in Nagoya through Sunday, June 11. As each of the two teams has a challenger status in the VNL, the opening game will also set off the important race for avoiding relegation.
Opposite Jiang Chuan, the most prolific spiker and the second best scorer of VNL’s inaugural edition in 2018, is back to captain China as part of the 14 men travelling to Japan. He will be in the company of another scoring machine, Zhang Jingyin, as they take to the courts of VNL 2023. While Bulgaria place a lot of hopes on the shoulders of their rising star Aleksandar Nikolov, for head coach Plamen Konstantinov’s second debut at the helm of the national team, he will also rely on some stars like Nikolay Penchev, Georgi Bratoev and Martin Bozhilov, returning to the squad after a long absence.
“I am certainly ready for the national team season. We are fired up! I expect that we show a good performance, play for Bulgaria as a team and, mostly, enjoy it while we are doing it,” said Nikolov.
The excitement in Nagoya will certainly rise for the second match on the programme, when the home team will hit the court for their opening match. In a remake of the last Asian Championship final, Japan will lock horns with continental rivals Iran and the home fans are eager with anticipation of seeing how Ryujin Nippon’s Yuki Ishikawa, Yuji Nishida, Ran Takahashi and the rest of their teammates will compete against the likes of powerful opposite Amin Esmaeilnezhad and experienced middle Seyed Mousavi.
The stands will, of course, be packed with Japanese fans for all of the home team’s games, but the hottest encounter they expect is on Sunday, when in the closing match of the pool, Japan will take on reigning Olympic champions and defending VNL titleholders France, led by Kevin Tillie and Daryl Bultor.
The French will have a really tough opening week for the defence of their title. Their campaign will get underway with a game against FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship runners-up Poland on Wednesday. They will then meet China on Friday before facing European Championship silver medallists Slovenia on Saturday.
Poland will start their quest for a fourth consecutive VNL podium with strong presence from Kamil Semeniuk and Mateusz Bieniek on the squad for Japan, while Slovenia’s Romanian head coach Gheorghe Cretu will rely on the services of stars like Tine Urnaut, Klemen Cebulj, Jan Kozamernik, Alen Pajenk, Rok Mozic, etc.
“Each match will be extremely important for us. We will fight to the best of our ability. We will try to gain as much as possible, because we are all well aware of the paths that lead to the Olympic Games,” said Slovenian captain Urnaut.
Slovenia will get their VNL campaign underway on Wednesday with a game against another strong opponent, the team of Serbia, with the likes of Petar Krsmanovic, Drazen Luburic and Bozidar Vucicevic on the squad.
The VNL Preliminary Phase will feature three competition weeks per gender, with each of the 16 teams playing 12 matches. The eight best-ranked national teams in the Preliminary Phase will qualify for the Finals, which will be held in Gdansk, Poland from July 19 through 23, with the host country already with a guaranteed spot.
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