VNL: A primer on a world-class tournament | Inquirer Sports

VNL: A primer on a world-class tournament

VNL Manila Leg

The Volleyball Nations League is headed back to Manila.

The Philippines will host the third week of the men’s tournament of the Volleyball Nations League, part of a three-year contract between the Philippine National Volleyball Federation and the International Volleyball Federation.

The VNL is a relatively new concept, but it has already attracted a huge following among volleyball fans, especially those who follow the journeys of national teams and their stars. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the VNL has made it part of its mission to elevate fan experience during the game.

For the Manila leg, in fact, a new court will be used that will enhance the way fans watch the game, either live or through videos.

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Here’s a primer on the league that is fast catching the attention of sports lovers around the world.

The beginning

Russia FIVB Volleyball Nations League

Russia wins historic gold medal of the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League. –VOLLEYBALL WORLD

In 2018, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) launched a new competition called the Volleyball Nations League (VNL), where the senior men’s and women’s national teams of the FIVB participate in the competition to showcase the sport of volleyball globally.

The tournament was announced by the FIVB during the celebration of its 70th anniversary in October 2017. Dr. Ary Graça, the president of the FIVB, stated that this change marked a pivotal moment for the future of volleyball as it set a new standard for the athlete and viewer experience.

Eligibility

A spot in the tournament begins with affiliated National Federations (NFs) that have fulfilled their financial commitments and have the right and obligation to accredit delegates to the FIVB Congress. The team selected by its NF and authorized to bear its country’s name is considered the national team.

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The top 16 teams in men’s and women’s will compete in the VNL, as selected by the FIVB. The 16-team field will consist of 11 core squads and five challenger squads for women and 10 core squads and six challenger squads for men.

The lowest-ranked challenger team in the current VNL will be relegated to the Volleyball Challenger Cup while the winner of the current VCC will be promoted to the next edition of the VNL. The VCC will consist of teams who qualify via continental confederations.

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Format

The Volleyball Nations League features a round-robin format, where a total of 16 teams compete in each gender category for several weeks. Each team will play 12 matches over the three-week Preliminary Phase against other opponents.

The top eight teams at the end of the Preliminary Phase advance to the Final Phase, which begins with the quarterfinals. In this phase, the national team of the hosting territory of the event will have a guaranteed spot. At the end of the quarterfinals, the top four teams will compete against each other in the semifinals.

The two winning teams from the semifinals will play for the VNL Champion title, while the other two teams will play for third place in the competition.

Top countries

Volleyball Nations League russia

Russia celebrates after defeating USA in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League first place game in Chicago, Illinois, July 14, 2019. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP)

Russia has the most VNL men’s titles with two, with Brazil and France ruling the tournament one time each. In the women’s league, the US won the first three stagings of the event before Italy triumphed last year.

This year, Italy, Poland and the United States have 10 wins each to lead the men’s division as of this posting, but the Americans have fewer points. Italy and Poland are playing in the Manila leg, giving both countries a chance to bolster their standings entering the final week.

In the women’s side, the US has leaped to the top of the standings with 11 wins at posting time, with Italy and Brazil a game behind. The US is eager to regain its hold of the title after falling off the podium following a loss to Japan, which opened the door for Italy, Brazil, and Serbia to rise.

The stars of the VNL

Italy's Paola Egonu

Italy’s Paola Egonu (C) reacts after a point in the women’s preliminary round pool B volleyball match between USA and Italy during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on August 2, 2021. (Photo by YURI CORTEZ / AFP)

The VNL has become a playground for some of the top national team stars of the world like the VNL 2022 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Paola Egonu from Italy, Serbian setter Maja Ognjenovic and World Championship MVP Tijana Boskovic.

There will be familiar names making comebacks like middle blocker Thaisa Menezes, who is returning to the Brazil roster after last playing for the team was during the 2018 World Championship.

The United States has a phalanx of stars like Jordan Larson, Alexandra Frantti, Kara Bajema, Kathryn Plummer, and Lauren Carlini.

The men’s division is no less star-studded, with France bringing back MVP Earvin Ngapeth and three vital cogs of its champion team: Jean Patry, Trevor Clevenot, and Jenia Grebennikov. For the Manila leg, much love and attention will fall on local fan favorite Japan and stars Ran Takahashi, Yuki Ishikawa and Yuji Nishida.

They keep coming back to Manila

Yuki Ishikawa Ran Takahashi VNL Japan

Japan’s Yuki Ishikawa (R) and Ran Takahashi react after a point in the men’s preliminary round pool A volleyball match between Japan and Italy during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on July 28, 2021. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

The 2022 Manila leg of the VNL was a huge success with packed game days at Smart Araneta Coliseum. This year, Manila will host the globetrotting tournament for the second year of a three-year pact with Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay hosting the matches this time from July 4 to 9.

Teams are expected to unveil their strongest rosters as the Manila leg is a critical phase of the men’s league, with teams jockeying for wins heading into the final phase that will be hosted by Poland. Tops stars from Brazil, Italy and Serbia have voiced their excitement at seeing action here.

Participating teams

Ngapeth France VNL

FIVB PHOTO

The Philippines has no representative in the men’s league, but the men’s national team will get to play The Netherlands and China—two teams seeing action in Week 3 here—in friendly matches.

Aside from The Netherlands and China, also seeing action here are Brazil, Italy, Slovenia, Japan, Poland, and Canada.

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The six-day tournament will serve as a final shot for the participating teams in determining who will play in the VNL Finals in Poland on July 19 to 23.

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