The battle lines are drawn for qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in September 2023. The FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) is set to get even more intense when it kicks off on May 30.
This is the fifth edition of the VNL this year. The former World Grand Prix was replaced by the VNL in 2018, and four editions have been held, not including the canceled 2019 edition due to COVID-19. The United States has won the title three times since its inception, and last year, Italy took home the inaugural VNL title.
This year, a total of 16 teams will be competing안전놀이터. The teams are categorized as core and challenger teams. Eleven teams, including South Korea, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Serbia, Thailand, Turkiye, and the United States, are core teams. Five teams are Challengers: Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Dominican Republic, and Poland. The lowest-ranked Challenger team is relegated to the Challenger Cup, and the winner of this year’s Challenger Cup earns a spot in next year’s VNL. Last year, South Korea finished last out of 16 teams, but avoided relegation because they were part of the core. Instead, Belgium, who finished last among the challengers, was relegated, and Croatia is a newcomer to the VNL this year.
Thirteen of the teams in this year’s VNL have appeared in four consecutive VNLs, with the exception of Bulgaria, Canada (2+), and Croatia (0). The same goes for South Korea. However, South Korea’s best finish at the tournament is 12th place. Poland and the Dominican Republic are challengers, but they are highly competitive and have consistently performed well.
The qualification format is the same as last year. Weeks 1 through 3 will be played, with eight teams competing in each week at different venues. Week 1 will take place in Antalya, Turkey and Nagoya, Japan; Week 2 in Hong Kong and Brasilia, Brazil; and Week 3 in Suwon, South Korea and Bangkok, Thailand. South Korea will return home to close out the VNL qualifiers at home after the trips to Turkiye and Brazil. The final stage is set for Arlington, USA, beginning with the quarterfinals tournament.
The top eight teams from the qualifiers punched their tickets to the finals. The top seven teams outside of the host nation, the United States, will advance to the tournament. A cross-tournament will complete the quarterfinal bracket based on qualifier rankings. Over the past four editions, only 10 teams have reached the final stage. They are the United States, Brazil, and Turkiye (four times), China (three times), Serbia, Italy, and Japan (twice), and the Netherlands, Thailand, and Poland (once).
The VNL usually starts in late May. This puts a lot of pressure on players from major European club teams whose seasons end in May. Aside from their ace players, national teams tend to field teams with younger players who have had fewer opportunities. After the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the FIVB awarded ranking points to the VNL and changed the criteria for selecting teams for the Paris Olympics, increasing the importance of the rankings. Since then, teams have started to assemble their best VNL squads.
What’s more, the Olympic qualifiers will take place this September. Six tickets to the Paris Olympics are up for grabs. A total of 24 teams will participate in the Olympic Qualifiers. Fifteen of them are from the VNL, minus Croatia. In Group C of the Olympic Qualifiers, South Korea will compete against Poland, Italy, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Colombia, and Slovenia. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the Olympics.
South Korea will also face the USA, Thailand, and Poland in the VNL. It’s a great opportunity to analyze your opponents and go head-to-head. The situation is the same for other teams. As the first international tournament of the year, the VNL is a chance to get to know each team’s roster, team colors, strengths, and weaknesses.
South Korea is in its second season with Cesar after the Tokyo Olympics. They are currently ranked 23rd in the FIVB rankings. With speed as their weapon, the team is determined to maximize their wins in the VNL and showcase more complete performances and results at the Asian Championships, Olympic Qualifiers, and the Hangzhou Asian Games.
South Korea’s goal is to qualify for a fourth consecutive Olympic Games. However, objectively speaking, the bar seems high. They will look to their first competition, the VNL, for hints of a breakthrough.