|The first round
of the World League starts May 15. For its 9th edition, this major Mens
pro-competition features a roster of 12 teams.
LAUSANNE, May 8 1998 - The ninth edition of the $ 8 million Pro-Volleyball league gets underway next week with 12 teams facing 72 preliminary matches in 35 cities around the world during 6 weekends from May 15 to June 21.
The teams are divided into 3 pools :
Seven teams will qualify for the Play-offs, 4 competing in a Spanish series and 3 in Yugoslavia, June 13, 14 and 15. The first 2 teams from Spain and the winner from Yugoslavia will join Italy, automatically qualified as host nation, in the Milan round robin decider, from July 17 to 19.
This event will provide a form guide for the forthcoming World Championships in Japan in November.
World champions Italy, six-time winners of the World League, and Olympic gold medallist Netherlands, the two giants of volleyball at the moment, are drawn in the same preliminary pool, but they are still favourites to feature in the Final Four showdown in Milan.
|It is the fourth
time that the final phase is being played in Italy, and the Italians have yet to lose on
home territory in this competition. With the Brazilian Bebeto now coaching the «Azzuri»
instead of Velasco, who is now with the Italian women, the title holders are considered
the team to beat to be crowned 1998 World League Champions.
The Dutch team won the European title last year but could only finish a disappointing fourth in the 1997 World League. For this edition, they will be strengthened by the return of the brilliant playmaker Peter Blangé, who is presently one of the stars of the Italian National League.
Cuba have been runners-up 4 times, including last year. They are now convinced it is their time to win the title, while Brazil can point to last years triumph In the Grand Champions Cup as evidence of their potential.
The Russian bench is alive with new faces, including a new coach, Gennadi Shipoulin who will do his best to pull the team out the slump of this very critical season. A protagonist of the final round in seven of the eight earlier editions, Russia does have a chance of reaching the final four this year too.
|Among the other
countries, Yugoslavia has perhaps the best chance to finish among the honours. Bronze
medallists at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and silver medallists at last year European
Championships the Yugoslavian can count themselves unlucky when making their World League
debut last year, failing to qualify for the final phase despite winning 8 out of 12
matches.This year the support of their home fans for the second stage of the competition
could make the difference.|
For their fifth consecutive participation to the World League, Bulgaria is certainly not to be underestimated. Climbing the podium should be problematic, but qualification for the playoffs is considered by Sofia a veritable must.
With China and Japan absent, South Korea have the heavy responsibility of being the sole representative of Asian volleyball. Their first target the World Championship 98, is closing in fast, and this World League will provide some meaningful indicators on the state of health of the Korean Team.