USA (USA) vs. Poland (POL) men - Final 1-2 #5981725

With the start of Volleyball Nations League 2024 just around the corner, let’s take a look at some of the most exciting matches awaiting the fans in this year’s men’s edition of the tournament. A set of seven teams – Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovenia and United States, in alphabetical order – have dominated the international stage and made up the top four at every single world-level competition since the new Olympic cycle started after Tokyo 2020. Even if we add the strong CEV European Championships in the past three years, the only exception to that trend would be Serbia’s fourth place in 2021. That means that any encounter between two of these seven teams would guarantee an explosive top-calibre clash.

However, what makes this edition of the VNL particularly special is that its Preliminary Phase also serves as the final part of the Olympic qualification process towards Paris 2024 and a lot of the spotlights will fall on those teams that have not guaranteed themselves Olympic tickets yet, but are well within reach of the coveted remaining vacancies. Two of the above-mentioned seven – Italy and Slovenia – are in that group. So are Argentina, Serbia, Cuba, the Netherlands, Iran and even VNL rookies Türkiye. And their matches will be quite exciting to follow.

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These are our five picks in chronological order:

USA v POLAND, May 22 in Antalya

This will be not only a remake of last year’s VNL final, but also a head-to-head power clash between the top two teams in the FIVB World Ranking. Both teams are already qualified for Paris, but while United States will be driven by a strong motivation to take revenge for the 3-1 loss last July and win their first VNL gold in history, Poland will certainly try to defend their title and maintain their status as the number one team in the world.

FRANCE v SLOVENIA, May 23 in Antalya

France are not only the host nation of the upcoming Olympic Games, but also the reigning men’s volleyball Olympic champions. Meanwhile, Slovenia, one of the world’s strongest teams, have yet to secure their spot at Paris 2024 and will be eager to stay on the right track towards such a historic success. They outplayed France in a five-set battle when they last met in the bronze medal match of EuroVolley 2023.

ARGENTINA v BRAZIL, May 23 in Rio de Janeiro

Regardless of when, where and why the two South American giants meet, the classic continental derby always sparks huge interest among the fans. This time additional flavour is added by the fact that the two teams are neighbours in the World Ranking – Brazil is number 5 and Argentina is number 6. The Brazilians, already qualified for Paris, will host this match as part of their effort to return to the VNL podium after a two-year absence, but the Argentineans will be keen to stay above the cut-off line for Olympic qualification as their ticket to the French capital has not been reserved yet.

JAPAN v ITALY, May 25 in Rio de Janeiro

Japan had a fabulous VNL campaign last year and will be eager to do even better this year. But one of the only two teams that managed to beat them during the 2023 Preliminary Phase was Italy. When they met again in the bronze medal match in Gdansk, however, the Asians downed the Europeans in a five-set battle to celebrate a historic success. Eager to take revenge, but even more eager to qualify for Paris, the Italians will be ready to fight for every single point and every single set.

CUBA v SERBIA, June 19 in Ljubljana

If the cut-off for the Olympic qualification through the World Ranking were today, Serbia would be the last team above the line, while Cuba would be the first team below the line. But the cut-off is at the end of the VNL Preliminary Phase, so when these two teams meet head to head just a few days before that, it might be a matter of life and death for either side. Both Serbia and Cuba certainly have the star players to lead them through such a crucial battle.

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