Toncek Stern Slovenia Volleyball Nations League 2024-min

With opposite Tonček Štern in great form, Slovenia are close to securing an Olympic spot in front of their fans

The last chapters of the race to qualify for Paris 2024 will unfold from Tuesday to Sunday in Ljubljana as the Slovenian capital is set to welcome five of the six men’s national team teams still involved in the battle for four Olympic spots in the third and final week of the Volleyball Nations League 2024 Preliminary Phase.

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Olympic hopefuls Italy, Slovenia, Argentina, Serbia and Cuba will each play four decisive matches at the Stožice Arena, while the Netherlands, who are a little behind, but still alive, will compete in Manila. Also playing in the Slovenian capital this week will be Poland, who are already qualified for the Games, besides Bulgaria and Türkiye, who are already out of the race.

With 369.30 FIVB World Ranking points and sitting at the top of the VNL standings with seven wins in eight matches (21 points), world champions Italy will need to wait a few more days to have their presence in Paris officially confirmed, but are virtually a lock to qualify and also in a good spot to take the top seed heading into the VNL Finals. Simone Giannelli, Alessandro Michieletto and their teammates start their campaign in Ljubljana with a tough match against World Ranking leaders Poland on Thursday, at 20:30 local time (18:30 GMT), and then face continental rivals Bulgaria, Slovenia and Türkiye.

Running second in the race for the four spots in Paris with 335.05 ranking points, Slovenia have a huge chance of confirming their first Olympic appearance this week in front of their home fans in matches against Argentina, on Wednesday, at 20:30 local time (18:30 GMT), Cuba, Italy and Serbia. In second place in the VNL standings with the same seven wins as Italy, but just 18 points, they’re also very close to booking their tickets to Łódź to play in the VNL Finals. The top scorer of the VNL 2024 so far with 173 points, opposite Tonček Štern has been on fire for them.

Volleyball Nations League 2024: schedule and results

Tokyo Olympic bronze medalists Argentina also start the week in a relatively safe spot, having a 50-point lead over the first team outside the qualification zone with 302.36. After their debut against Slovenia, the South Americans, who are ninth in the VNL standings with four wins (12 points) and need to move up to appear in the Finals, will face Türkiye, Poland and Bulgaria. Argentina have the best setter (Luciano De Cecco), the best defender (Santiago Danani) and the best blocker (Nicolas Zerba) of the VNL according to the stats.

Serbia and Cuba to meet on Thursday

Separated by less than a point in the World Rankings, Serbia (251.55) and Cuba (250.64) are expected to fight neck to neck for the fourth spot in Paris and their duel on Thursday, at 16:30 local time (14:30 GMT), will likely be critical as it could give the winners a 20-point advantage with just three more matches to be played.

The Serbians will also face Türkiye, Poland and Slovenia in Ljubljana, while the Cubans are scheduled to meet Slovenia, Bulgaria and Poland. Both teams are also aiming for a spot in the VNL Finals this week, with Cuba currently ranking eighth with four wins (12 points) and Serbia sitting in tenth place with three wins (ten points).

Already guaranteed in the VNL Finals as the host country, defending champions Poland are currently in third place with six wins (18 points) and will try to move up after their matches against Italy, Argentina, Serbia and Cuba.

Bulgaria, ranked 14th with two wins (five points), and rookies Türkiye, who are 15th with one win (five points), are both unlikely to make it to the Finals and are also far behind in the Olympic race.

The third week of the VNL Preliminary Phase will also have matches in Manila, the Philippines, where Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands and the USA will be in action.

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