VNL’s preliminary round kicked off on May 31 with a match between Iran and Italy in China’s Jiangmen. Iran survived an early scare with a 3-1 win against one of the most decorated teams of the event. That was how the journey started for Igor Kolakovic and his men.
Iran kept the momentum in almost all 14 remaining games and earned 12 victories while also suffering three losses. With the 12-3 win-loss record and 36 points, Iran finished this as runner-up behind Brazil with 14-1.
Iran relies on both experienced and young players
Many volleyball experts in the country believed that Igor Kolakovic should give the opportunity to youth players in the event; both for training the next generation and also for preserving the stamina of the experienced ones for other important events of this year, such as the 2020 Olympics qualifiers. However, Kolakovic didn’t share the same view. He held a different opinion. The Montenegrin coach fielded its top guns in almost all games, except for the last two ones against Bulgaria and USA; showing that attaining medal in this event is of priority for him. And till now he has been successful as he managed to lead the team to the final round for the second time in Iran’s history; the first one occurred in 2014.
Although there is still much difference between Iran’s main and second squad, the youth players, such as Mohammadreza Hazratpour, Ali Asghar Mojarad, Porya Yali, and Javad Karimi promise yet another golden generation for Iranian volleyball. They only need more time and more games to achieve the required harmony.
Critics say that now that the team has taken the risk of injuries and advanced to the final stage, it is now the best time to earn a medal in the event since the main squad is at its best readiness and if they miss the chance now, it will take many years to gain another such opportunity.
Iran is mainly powered by its top guns who also rank among best players of this year’s VNL. The team’s captain, Saeid Marouf, is now the best setter of the event with an average per set of 8.42. He had also attained the 2014 World League’s best setter prize.
Amir Ghafour is Iran’s and the event’s best attacker so far with a total of 183 spikes and an average success rate of 57.73 percent. He also ranks second in the best scores’ table with 208 points, behind Japan’s Yuji Nishida with 220. It seems pretty likely that Ghafour would catch Nishida since Japan is not present in the Final Six.
Naming Iran’s top players, one cannot ignore Seyed Mohammad Mousavi who is among the best blockers of the competition with 29 stuff blocks and 38 rebounds.
Top five teams of the table, i.e. Brazil, Iran, Russia, France, Poland plus the host, USA, will hold the Final Six round in Chicago on July 10 to 14.
Iran has been drawn along Brazil and Poland in Pool B of the final round. Iran’s matches against these two powerhouses in the preliminary round both finished in five sets, one win and one loss.
Iran vs Poland
According to FIVB, Iran and Poland have held 19 matches at major world level tournaments; the results were seven wins for Iran and 12 for the European side.
This year’s match between the two teams at 2019 VNL preliminary round was held in Iran’s Urmia on June 15 and ended with a hard-fought 3-2 victory for the host.
The game in Chicago on July 11, 22:00 GMT, will surely be an exciting encounter; why, you ask? For the history of the two teams’ head-to-head matches and all the controversies that follow. Poland captain, Michal Kubiak has a long history of engaging in verbal and even physical conflict with Iranian players.
Kubiak was suspended in early June for six games following offensive remarks where he called Iranians “fatal, malicious and damned people”. Days later and after Iran’s official complaint, FIVB Disciplinary Panel Sub-Committee noted in a statement that Kubiak has ‘committed violations’ of the regulations and urged the Polish player to issue a written apology.
The official apology was issued but not by Kubiak himself, rather by the Polish volleyball federation and it was read before the start of Iran-Poland game in Urmia.
Kubiak has just played for Poland in the Week 1 of 2019 VNL and it very likely that he will be fielded in the final round.
Iran vs Brazil
According to FIVB, Brazil and Iran have met 15 times at major world-level competitions. Brazil won 12 of these games, including each of the last six. Iran won three, with the most recent victory dating back to their 2014 World League pool stage encounter. Their last encounter goes back to June 7 in the Week Two of the event which finished with a 3-2 victory for the South American team.
The two teams will lock horns on July 12 at 22:00 GMT.
France, USA and Russia hold matches of the Pool A. Two best teams of each pool will advance to the semifinal.
One more thing about Iran is that the team will by no means be alone in Chicago as more than one million Iranians are living in the US and Canada and surely, some will make a trip to Credit Union 1 Arena to cheer for their team.
Who can earn the $1 million prize of the first rank? No one can guess for sure as all six teams have proved their top-class volleyball and the fact that volleyball cannot be predicted at this world top level. I and many other Iranians are just impatiently waiting to see a high-quality performance by our team.
- source : Mehrnews