Top contenders – 2018 FIVB Men’s World Championship

Sunday, 09 Sep 2018
Lawrence Fernandez - Editor - @lancefernandez

The 19th edition of the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship is about to kick off in Italy and Bulgaria. Twenty-four teams from around the world will compete for one of the sport’s most prestigious titles. Before the battle starts to brew, let’s look at the teams to beat in this world volleyball competition.

Poland – owners of the throne

By the end of this competition, we will know whether Poland’s reign as kings of the volleyball world will end or be extended. But a glance through their roster shows that they will defend the title at all costs. Coach Heynen Vital will try to steer the squad to a third World Championship but that might be a tall order given that 2014 Men’s World Championship Most Valuable Player Mariusz Wlazly will not be suiting up for the Poles

Still, their odds of clinching back-to-back crowns are great given that they have captain and wing spiker Michal Kubiak, middle blocker Piotr Nowakowski, 2014 World Championship second-best middle blocker Karol Klos, opposite spikers Bartosz Kurek and Dawid Konarski, and setter Fabian Drzyyga. Meanwhile, Pawel Zatorski and Damian Wojtaszek will be their cornerstones on defense as liberos. The third-best team in the world is grouped with Iran, Puerto Rico, Finland, Cuba, and co-hosts Bulgaria in Pool D of the FIVB Men’s World Championship 2018.

Russia – strong and steady

Russia is the only country that is yet to miss an FIVB Men’s World Championship since its inception in 1949. Along the way, they have stamped their dominance by winning six world championships to go with 14 European titles and six world cups. However, they only finished fifth in Italy-Bulgaria and they are raring to improve from that disappointing finish. That’s all the motivation coach Sergei Shliapnikov needs to motivate his team to reach the medal games.

Bannering the squad is team captain and setter Sergey Grankin who will distribute the ball to wing spikers Yury Berezhko and Dmitry Volkov, opposite spikers Maxim Mikhaylov and Pavel Kruglov, and middle blockers Dmitriy Muserskiy, Artem Volvich, and Ilia Vlasov. Long-time national team player Alexey Verbov and Alexander Sokolov will take turns in manning the libero position. Russia, the fourth-best team in the world, is part of Pool C with Serbia, Australia, Tunisia, Cameroon, and the United States.

United States – banking on experience

Despite being ranked as the second-best team in the world by the FIVB, the United States have not won a medal in the World Championship since their bronze medal finish in 1994. Meanwhile, their gold medal drought dates back to 1986 when they won it all against the former Soviet Union in Paris, France. For this edition, they are sending an experience squad to try and bring home the crown once again.

Leading the way for coach John Speraw is 2017 NORCECA Championship Most Valuable Player and setter Micah Christenson. Joining him in the quest for the USA’s second world title are team captain and wing spiker Taylor Sander, setter Kawika Shoji, wing spiker Aaron Russell, opposite hitters Carson Clark and Matthew Anderson, and middle blockers Maxwell Holt and David Smith. Erik Shoji and Dustin Watten will hold the fort for the Americans at libero. The United States is also part of Pool D.

Canada – darkhorse contender

Even though the best finish of the Canadian men’s national volleyball team in the FIVB Men’s World Championship is 7th place back in 2014, they remain to be a silent but deadly contender that cannot be taken lightly. After all, the team of coach Stephane Antiga is ranked sixth in the world and their roster is a mixture of experienced and young players. Leading the way for the Canadians are team captain and wing spiker John Gordon Perrin and 2015 NORCECA Championship Most Valuable Player Nicholas Hoag.

They will be joined by fellow wing spiker Jason Derocco, opposite hitters Gavin Schmitt, and middle blockers Daniel Cornelius Jansen Vandoorn, Justin Duff, and Graham Vigrass. Tyler Sanders will be running the plays as setter while Blair Cameron Bann is their main man at libero. Canada is part of Pool B with Brazil, China, Egypt, France, and Netherlands.

Italy – homecourt advantage

Tied as the fourth-best team as per FIVB rankings with Russia, the Italian men’s national volleyball team will have the luxury of playing at home. But regardless of venue, they have continued to be one of the powerhouse teams in the world. However, the program seems to be in a freefall as they finished 13th in the 2014 World Championship. It’s now up to coach Gianlorenzo Blengini and his squad to erase the memory of that dismal performance in front of their home crowd.

Team captain and wing spiker Ivan Zaytsev will correct the sails of the 2018 campaign together with fellow wing spikers Simone Parodi, Luigi Randazzo, Gabriele Maruotti, and Filippo Lanza, opposite spiker Giulio Sabbi, setters Simone Gianelli and Michele Baranowicz, and middle blocker Davide Candellaro and Simone Anzani. Veterans Salvatore Rossini and Massimo Colaci will be their anchors on defense as liberos. Italy will be part of Pool A with Argentina, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Japan, and Slovenia.

Brazil – best in the world

Even though Rio 2016 Summer Olympics Most Valuable Player Serginho Santos has retired, the Brazilian national team for the 2018 FIVB Men’s World Championship can still bestow damage upon its opponents. But for this edition, coach Renan Dal Zotto chose to call-up ten players with no international experience to the squad. However, this does not mean that the top-ranked team in the world can be pushed around. For starters, they are out to improve on their runner-up finish in the 2014 World Championship.

Team captain and setter Bruno Mossa Rezende will be leading Team Brazil which is composed of wing spikers Luiz Felipe Marques Fonteles and Carlos Eduardo Barreto Silva, opposite spikers Wallace De Souza, Renan Buiatti, and Evandro M. Guerra, and middle blockers Lucas Saatkamp and Eder Carbonera. The libero position will be handled by Rogerio Batista de Carvalho Filho, Thales Hoss, and Maique Reis Nascimento. Brazil is part of Pool B of the 2018 FIVB Men’s World Championship.