2014 FIVB Men’s World Championship Preview — Pool A

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A

The 2014 FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship begins 30 August at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland. This will be our first look at the teams in the event.

I’d love to do a team-by-team rundown as I have in the past, but there’s simply not enough time. So instead, we’ll go pool-by-pool. There’s 24 teams organised into four pools of six. Pool A consists of the following teams:


Let’s take a look at each.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A ARGENTINA

Current FIVB world ranking: 9th
2014 World League finish: Joint 13th
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Joint 5th
2010 World Championship finish: 9th
Best-ever World Championship finish: Bronze medal (1982)

Argentina have always been pretty overshadowed by their next-door neighbours, but their history at the world level is fair. They had a disappointing 2013 World League, getting propped up in terms of their final position by virtue of having been hosts of the final round, but were pretty battered by injuries during that tournament. They did better this year, finishing as runners-up in one of the Group B pools (the byzantine structure is part of the reason I generally tuned out of World League this year). Looking at their score sheets from World League, it looks like they mostly played their better players, something teams don’t always do in World League when there’s a bigger prize looming later in the summer (be it worlds or the Olympic Games).

Players to Watch For: The show on the powder blue and white side starts with pin hitter Facundo Conte (jersey #7). He was one of the players who was out injured in last year’s World League, but he’s back at it this year and is probably the biggest individual reason for the Argentinians’ turnaround. Look for Sebastian Solé (jersey #11) to be the secondary option and to pick up the slack if Conte should falter for any reason. They also have a superlative setter in Luciano De Cecco (jersey #15). He too was a little banged up in last year’s World League, leading to the revelation of Nicolas Uriarte (jersey #5) at the same position. The two split time in World League, but I have to imagine De Cecco gets the nod at worlds, at least until something goes wrong (as it inevitably does). Pablo Crer (jersey #14) is a capable middle blocker, and will certainly start unless hurt, but this isn’t really a position of strength for the Argentinians.

Argentina are the sort of team that will reliably win the matches they “should” win and every so often will play over their heads a bit.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A AUSTRALIA

Current FIVB world ranking: 12th
2014 World League finish: 9th
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Joint 9th (last)
2010 World Championship finish: Joint 19th (last)
Best-ever World Championship finish: Joint 17th (1998)

The ‘Volleyroos’ were one of the revelations of World League, winning Group B (thanks in no small measure to hosting the finals, but still) and insinuating themselves into the Group A finals. Volleyball isn’t a hugely popular sport in Australia, but this will make five straight world championships for which they’ve qualified. They’ve won only one match in their history at the event, back in 1998 — the only time when they didn’t finish in last position. So history at worlds isn’t on their side, but they’ve got to be riding high after their showing at World League.

Players to Watch For: Opposite hitter Thomas Edgar (jersey #6) is far and away the team’s leading scorer, and is the one who turned the most heads in the squad’s two fixtures against traditional volleyball powerhouses (USA and Italy) at the World League finals. Look for him to get most of the team’s sets in Poland. Floor captain is middle blocker Aidan Zingel (jersey (#1), who (together with Edgar) managed to send back the best eventual World League champions USA had to offer a few times during their match. The green and gold will need to make the most of their opportunities when they get these two in the front row, and side out quickly when they’re not. Libero Luke Perry (yup, Luke Perry….jersey #11) is one of the youngest players at this year’s tournament, at just 18 years old. He saw action all throughout World League, including in the finals matches against USA and Italy, putting up adequate digging numbers for men’s international volleyball.

Australia are probably on the upswing….but there’s almost no chance that they weren’t going to be considering their history.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A CAMEROON

Current FIVB world ranking: 22nd
2014 World League finish: Did not participate
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Did not participate
2010 World Championship finish: Joint 13th
Best-ever World Championship finish: Joint 13th (2010)

Oh boy. Here’s a team I really don’t know much about. At the risk of stating the obvious, CAVB teams don’t have a huge history of success on the world stage, and I can’t imagine it’ll be any different this year. Cameroon are one of the “grow the game” teams and are here simply because CAVB get three teams. Look at the teams they beat to make it here — Algeria, Gabon, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Any of them would have been seen the same way. Now I’m not saying they don’t belong, but there comes a point where you have to realise with whom you’re dealing. To their credit, this makes the first time the Cameroon ‘Lions’ as they’re popularly known are making back-to-back appearances at worlds; their only previous appearance was in 1990. They have never participated in World League nor the Olympic Games.

Players to Watch For: There’s almost no current information on this team available online, and even less of it in English. The one player I see drawing regular mention is opposite hitter Jean Patrice Ndaki Mboulet (jersey #7). He’s a touch undersized for a hitter at the international level at 1.99m, though there have certainly been successful pins at that height. And he seemed to be the dominant force at the African quallies for worlds. But he’s also 35, and the only player I’m even seeing mentioned (an FIVB article describes the team as “Jean Patrick Ndabi Mboulet and company”).

Cameroon defeated Australia at the last worlds, but I’ll be surprised if they do again.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A POLAND

Current FIVB world ranking: 5th
2014 World League finish: Joint 7th
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Joint 5th
2010 World Championship finish: Joint 13th
Best-ever World Championship finish: Champions (1974)

This is a team with quite a bit more history than the last two, but they’re also a team that’s turning over a new leaf. 2014 marks the first year for the Poles under new head coach Stéphane Antiga, who ended his playing career just last season to take this position. He is, naturally, signed through the Olympiad. That’s how these things work.

As the hosts of the tournament and highest-ranked team in Pool A, the Poles immediately figure as favourites. They’re the only really traditionally powerful team in the pool. Their World League, against much tougher competition than they’re going to face at the outset of the World Championship, was about as middle-of-the-road as you could possibly get. They went 6-6 overall, and 2-2 against each opponent (Brazil, Iran, Italy). They defended home court well, going 5-1 in matches held in five Polish cities — all of which will also be World Championship venues.

Players to Watch For: Pin hitter Bartosz Kurek (jersey #6) is the team’s top player, and one of their few to play professionally outside Poland (Italy, in his case — though the Polish leagues are decent). He’s been tapped as one of the best young players in the sport the world over the last several years, and is still younger than most of the crowd (he turns 26 the day before the tournament starts). He saw almost no action in World League, being on the roster only for Polish home matches, but I haven’t found any indication he’s been hurt lately, so I imagine he’s just playing a controlled schedule and rounding into form. If he’s at worlds, which I don’t doubt he will be, he’ll assert himself. Floor captain Michal Winiarski (jersey #2) is a recipient of many “Best Passer” honours at previous tournaments, making him someone to look out for in the oft-overlooked area of serve reception. He’s also a solid scorer. He was one of the few players (at all) to get regular playing time in World League, as players like Mariusz Wlazly (jersey #10) and Rafal Buszek (jersey #21) took turns as their leading scorer. Not sure which, if either, if any, will pop up as a go-to guy at worlds.

Poland are the solid favourites to win the pool.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A SERBIA

Current FIVB world ranking: 6th
2014 World League finish: 6th
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Joint 9th
2010 World Championship finish: Bronze medal
Best-ever World Championship finish: Silver medal (1998)

Here’s another nation with a strong history in the sport. Serbia are international fixtures and frequent medallists at major events, including the Olympics, worlds, World League, and continental championships. As they are considered the inheritors of the records and results attained by Yugoslavia, their best result is the 2000 Olympic championship.

They had a decent World League this year, but crucially lost a home match late in pool play to the United States that allowed the Americans to advance to the finals and kept the Serbs at home. They played their top players all throughout the tournament, both at home and on the road, making them practiced — if perhaps not so rested — in advance of worlds. They get a few favourable mismatches in round 1, so they shouldn’t be too worried.

Players to Watch For: Relatively pint-sized pin hitter Nikola Kovacevic (jersey #1) leads the way. Despite standing just 1.93m, he looms large at the net as well as in the back row. Kid brother Uros Kovacevic (10 years Nikola’s junior; jersey #2) is in his rookie season as a senior national, but he’s fitting in nicely to form a 1-2 punch with his bro. The middle blocker position is ably manned by floor captain and wily veteran Dragan Stankovic (jersey #7), who at 28 is the fifth-oldest player on a very young team. Aleksandar Atanasijevic (jersey #10) is another hitter worthy of drawing mention. He’ll turn 23 during the tournament but is already a four-year veteran of the senior national team himself and has played in some of the best pro leagues in the world. Setting will probably be handled by Nikola Jovovic (jersey #9), talented but a little on the young side as this is his first quadrennial tournament as a senior national.

Serbia will definitely make it out of this pool and could win it.

2014 FIVB Men's World Championship Preview -- Pool A VENEZUELA

Current FIVB world ranking: 35th
2014 World League finish: Did not participate
2012 Summer Olympics finish: Did not participate
2010 World Championship finish: Joint 19th (last)
Best-ever World Championship finish: 10th (1960)

Only three teams are in worlds that didn’t participate in this year’s (bloated) World League, and two of them are in this pool. At the risk of saying much of what I said about Cameroon all over again, I just don’t know a whole lot about the Venezuelans. Once upon a time, they had a successful national program. They’ve participated at several world championships, though never finishing in the top half. As recently as 2007, they were bronze medallists at the South American championships, behind guess who and guess who else. They managed a joint 7th finish at the 2005 World League. And very little since then. They have not participated at World League since losing in the 2010 qualifiers. And you want to talk about regime changes — the Venezuelans have a change in head coaching just four months in advance of worlds, with Italian Vicenzo Nacci taking the post just this past April.

Players to Watch For: Your guess is as good as mine. I guess I actually was able to dredge up a little more information about Cameroon than Venezuela

The Scientific Wild-Ass Guess, or SWAG

Poland are gonna win the pool, I’m 98% sure. On the off-chance they flub it in front of their home fans, maaaaaybe the Serbs can step up and take it. That’s it. I’ve got chalk all the way in this one; hard not to go by FIVB rankings here. Remember, though, the only thing that really matters is the teams finishing fifth and sixth. All of the top four finishers in this pool will advance to the next round; their exact positions will only determine matchups in the second pool round. This may mean Poland and Serbia, who are clearly a cut above the other teams, may yet rest their best players a bit. But I don’t think that’ll matter.

1. Poland
2. Serbia
3. Argentina
4. Australia
5. Cameroon
6. Venezuela

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