The European elite will gather in Ankara to play for an Olympic berth. Eight teams and only one ticket to Rio – who has the biggest chance to win it?
All eyes in Europe will turn to Ankara on January 4-9 when the best European teams will stand in a chance to win the ticket to Rio. Eight teams divided into two pools of four will begin the rivalry and only two teams from each pool will advance to the semis. There is only one Olympic spot to be given, with runner up and the third team securing spot at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan in May and June 2016. The remaining 5 teams will finish their road to Rio right there in Ankara.
So who is up for the challenge? Let’s have a look at the teams from pool A. How was their 2015 season, who is their star player to lead them in the qualifier? And most importantly – what are their chances to get to the semi-finals?
FIVB Ranking: 21st
CEV Ranking: 9th
2015 Formline: Croatia started the 2015 campaign with rather disappointing performance in World Grand Prix Group 2, where they lost all of their matches. The European Championship finished for the team in the play-off phase against Italy, but Croatia were the only team who defeated Russia – the new European Champion – during the competition.
Star Player: Maja Poljak – one of the most experienced and most known players from Croatia. Her career as a middle blocker began Mladost Zagreb to move to Italian Serie A in 2000. After eight years she moved to Turkey where she played for Turk Telekom Ankara, Vakifbank Istanbul and eventually from 2011 the reigning CEV Champions League winner Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul. Apart from a number of club titles with her teams, Poljak won the Best Blocker award on several occasions, including 5 titles earned in the champions League competition.
Predicted Pool Finish: 4th
Despite showing that the team can pull off a surprising victory, Croatia has rather small chances to repeat it and advance to the semis, having European vice-champion The Netherlands, hosts Turkey and Germany on the other side of the net.
FIVB Ranking: 11th
CEV Ranking: 5th
2015 Formline: Germany entered the season missing the World Grand Prix Final Six to Japan by a set ratio difference. Both teams had 4 victories in the pool round, with 13 points scored overall. Later in the year Germany lost a tiebreaker in the EuroVolley quarterfinal to Turkey, losing a chance to repeat their result from the previous years.
Star Player: Margareta Kozuch – team’s captain, playing as a wing spiker. Starting her career in German TuS Berne, Kozuch have since played in Italy, Russia, Poland, Azerbaijan and China. Her biggest achievement with the national team is double European Championship silver medal from 2011 and 2013.
Predicted Pool Finish: 3rd
After a season of missing out their chances by an inch, with all of the experienced players called on board, Germany will definitely want to prove they deserve to go to Rio. No doubt the team will put up a fight, but they will have a tough road to get to the semis.
FIVB Ranking: 10th
CEV Ranking: 4th
2015 Formline: The World Grand Prix performance wasn’t the team’s best, with 11th place and only two victories in the pool round. The EuroVolley started off much better – Turkey on the quarterfinal against Germany, but lost the semis to The Dutch team and at last Turkish finished their European Championship campaign without the medal.
Star Player: Neslihan Demir – not only one of the most experienced players in Turkey and team captain, but one of the most successful female athletes and a sport icon in Turkey. She was chosen as Turkey flag-bearer at the Olympic Games in London. For the past 6 years she has been playing for the Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul.
Predicted Pool Finish: 2nd
Turkey has all it takes to advance to the semis from pool A. Support of their devoted local fans will definitely motivate the team – and intimidate the opponent…
FIVB Ranking: 14th
CEV Ranking: 6th
2015 Formline: After missing the opportunity at Belgium in 2014, The Netherlands won World Grand Prix Group 2, securing the spot in the Group 1 for the next year. This success was followed by winning European Championship silver on home court, giving the team more confidence ahead of the qualifier.
Star Player: Lonneke Slöetjes – one of the most talented opposites in Europe. Currently she is playing for Turkish Vakifbank Istanbul, making a Turkey’s environment more familiar. Slöetjes was awarded Best Opposite Spiker at the EuroVolley back in October.
Predicted Pool Finish: 1st
After a 2015 winning campaign the Dutch enter the qualifier with a lot of confidence. Add their new coach Giovanni Guidetti who’s been leading Turkish Vakifbank Istanbul for years and talented players familiar with the hosts environment, The Netherlands are definitely a favorite to finish the pool A as the best team.