Brazil face tough challengers in quest for their fourth Olympic gold

Five years after Rio 2016, the long awaited and much anticipated Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 volleyball tournament finally gets underway with men’s matches on July 24.

Brazil will be defending their title against eight teams which also played at Rio 2016 and three Olympic Games returnees.

Rio 2016 medallists Italy and the United States are competing in consecutive Olympics, together with reigning world champions Poland, two-time VNL winners and London 2012 champions ROC, Argentina, Canada, France and Iran.

Tunisia are making their Olympic comeback after missing Rio 2016, while Venezuela and hosts Japan are back after last participating in the Olympics at Beijing 2008.

Italy and Canada will open the men’s tournament at the Ariake Arena at 09.00 local time.

These two sides faced each other at the recently completed FIVB Volleyball Nations League, when Italy won the encounter in five sets.

The Italians are eager to go one place up on the podium after finishing second in Rio with Olympic veterans Ivan Zaytsev, Luca Vettori, Osmany Juantorena, Simone Giannelli, Matteo Piano and Massimo Colaci leading the squad again in Japan.

The Canadian team will also have experienced players on their side including captain John Gordon Perrin, Tyler Sanders, Steven Marshall, Nicholas Hoag, Jay Blankenau, Graham Vigrass and Blair Cameron Bann.

Italy have never won gold at the Olympic Games but have made it to the finals and finished with silver on all three occasions (Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Rio 2016). They have also won three bronze medals.

After winning their home Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will attempt to extend their Olympic reign in Tokyo and their successful win-record in Japan.

Brazil’s successes on Japanese soil include one World Championship title in 2006, three gold and three bronze medals at the World Cup, and five gold and two silver medals at the World Grand Champions Cup. Their latest title conquests in Japan were at the 2017 World Grand Champions Cup and 2019 World Cup.

The Brazilian team have played in all the editions of the Olympics and won three gold medals (Barcelona 1992, Athens 2004 and Rio 2016) and three silver medals.

They will play the second match on the opening day of the tournament at 11.05 against African side Tunisia, who will compete in their seventh Olympic Games.

These two sides last met at the 2019 World Cup in Hiroshima, when Brazil beat Tunisia in straight sets.

ROC have progressed to the final four in their last six Olympic appearances and made it to the top of the podium at London 2012 following silver and two bronze medal finishes.

Maxim Mikhaylov is ROC’s main man. The veteran will lead the squad as they attempt to win an Olympic medal with a younger batch of hopefuls that bannered the squad to win back-to-back VNL titles in 2018 and 2019.

The Russians will play at 14.20 against Argentina, who are led by Facundo Conte and Luciano de Cecco.

The Europeans claimed victory against the South Americans in their four-set match at the 2021 VNL.

Japan and Venezuela will meet again at the Olympic Games 13 years after their last appearance at Beijing 2008.

The host squad, who finished fourth at the 2019 World Cup, will showcase their best led by standouts Yuki Ishikawa and Yuji Nishida. They will face Venezuela’s 12 Olympic debutants at 16.25.

The action gets hotter at night as Poland face Iran at 19.40 and USA meet France at 21.45.

Fresh from their silver medal finish at the VNL, reigning world champions Poland hope to end their 45-year Olympic medal drought.

The Europeans won their lone Olympic medal at Montreal 1976 and have reached only the quarterfinals in their last four consecutive appearances at the quadrennial.

The team are led by veterans Michal Kubiak and Bartosz Kurek, and Cuban-born Wilfredo Leon who will be making his Olympic debut in the Polish jersey.

They will have strong opposition in their first match, as Saeid Marouf-led Iran make their second straight Olympic appearance with a new batch of talented youngsters Meisam Salehi, Saber Kazemi and Aliasghar Mojarad.

To complete the opening day of matches, France will use the momentum from their bronze medal performance at the VNL to challenge Rio bronze medallists USA.

Eight Rio 2016 medallists highlight USA’s team, including three-time Olympians Matt Anderson and David Smith. Micah Christenson, Kawika Shoji, Max Holt, Thomas Jaeschke, Taylor Sander and Erik Shoji are the six other athletes returning from the Rio 2016 team.

For the French side, Jenia Grebennikov, Trevor Clevenot, Benjamin Toniutti, Kevin Tillie, Earvin Ngapeth and Nicolas Le Goff are the six athletes from the Rio 2016 squad.

The 12 men’s teams will be divided into two pools of six teams. Each team will play against the five other teams in the same pool in a single round robin system. Then the top four teams from each pool will advance to the next phase playing in a knockout system in the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds.

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