Jordan Thompson in VNL 2021 action against Serbia

In one of the most anticipated clashes of the women’s Volleyball Nations League 2022, two of the most decorated teams in recent women’s volleyball history will go head to head on Thursday. On one side of the net, it will be reigning Olympic champions and defending three-time VNL title-holders USA. Against them, on the other side of the net, will be reigning world champions Serbia, who were also medallists at the last two Olympic Games and last four CEV European Championships. The game in the Canadian city of Calgary will start at 20:00 local time (02:00 GMT on Friday morning).

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

After winning eight of their nine VNL 2022 matches so far and collecting 24 points, the Americans are the new standings leaders with a secure berth at next month’s Finals in Ankara. They defeated Belgium on Wednesday in their first game of the week in Calgary to extend their winning streak to five consecutive games and jump over Japan to the top of the table on set ratio after the Asian side suffered their first defeat in the competition at the hands of the Netherlands. However, both USA and Japan have now booked their tickets to the Turkish capital.

Serbia also started the week with a victory, over Germany on Tuesday, to improve to a 6-3 win-loss ratio, 17 points and fifth place in the standings.

Since the southern European team started competing as Serbia in 2007 they have met the United States 21 times in major world-level competitions. The Americans lead the series by 14 wins against seven. They are also on a five-match winning run since Serbia last beat them in the Preliminary Round of the inaugural VNL 2018. The North Americans defeated the Balkan team in the Finals of that edition, as well as the next two VNL seasons in 2019 and 2021, in addition to scoring victories at the 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup and last year’s Olympic Games.

Their most recent meeting occurred in the Tokyo 2020 semifinals. On August 6, 2021, USA produced a 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-23) shutout of their opponents to advance to the final and eventually triumph as Olympic champions. The Serbs also won their next game to celebrate with the bronze medals. Opposite Andrea Drews, who is on coach Kiraly’s squad this week in Calgary, led the American scorers in that semifinal match with 17 points, including three aces.

Earlier in 2021, on May 31 in Rimini, the United States mastered another emphatic sweep of Serbia. In that game, it was their other opposite of this week’s VNL line-up, Jordan Thompson, who produced the match high of 17 points, including two aces, towards the 3-0 (25-20, 25-16, 25-12) victory. USA topped the VNL 2021 Preliminary Round standings on a 14-1 win-loss record and went on to add two more victories in the Finals to retain their title, while Serbia finished 13th on 4-11.

In addition to Drews and Thompson, this week’s American roster in Calgary, features five more Tokyo Olympic gold medallists – playmakers Jordyn Poulter (Dream Team setter at both the Olympics and VNL 2021) and Micha Hancock, outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, middle blocker Haleigh Washington (also a Tokyo 2020 Dream Teamer), and captain Justine Wong-Orantes (the Best Libero at both Tokyo 2020 and VNL 2021). Their current roster also includes middle blocker Tetori Dixon from last year’s American VNL team.

Serbia’s team in Calgary includes five Olympic bronze medallists – setter Sladjana Mirkovic, opposite and captain Ana Bjelica, outside hitters Bianka Busa and Bojana Milenkovic, and middle blocker Maja Aleksic, and another two players from the squad that earned EuroVolley 2021 silver later last season – outside Katarina Lazovic and middle Jovana Kocic.

After their game against Serbia, USA have two more matches to play in Calgary, against Türkiye on Saturday and against Germany on Sunday, before getting ready for the trip to Ankara, where they will continue the defence of their title at the Final Round from July 13 through 17. The Serbs will take on hosts Canada on Friday and Japan on Saturday.

Before USA and Serbia close Thursday’s VNL match programme, another two games will be played in Calgary, Türkiye against the Netherlands and Germany against Belgium. Thursday’s schedule for the other pool, in Sofia, sets Thailand against the Dominican Republic, Poland against China and Korea against Brazil.