The 2017 FIVB Volleyball World League, now less than three weeks away, boasts a myriad of talents in the top-tier group, headed by the likes of last year’s MVP Marko Ivovic and Best Middle Blocker Srecko Lisinac of Serbia.
All the players bar one on the 2016 FIVB World League Dream Team will be back in 2017 to provide the high-level spectacle that this competition has been consistently providing.
This includes 2016 MVP Marko Ivovic and Best Middle Blocker Srecko Lisinac, who will be leading Serbia in the defence of the title which they won for the first time last year by beating Brazil in the final 3-0 in Krakow.
Serbia coach Nikola Grbic has begun rebuilding his team ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in an effort to rebound from the disappointment of missing Rio 2016 for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Brazil, the most decorated team in the history of the competition with nine titles, on the other hand, are taking a different approach after winning their third Olympic gold last year in Rio 2016. They will be led by new coach Los Angeles 1984 Olympics silver medallist Renan Dal Zotto in his first National Team coaching appointment.
Although Rio 2016 MVP libero Serginho has retired from the National Team following the Games, Dal Zotto will be counting for the 2017 FIVB World League on some huge stars and the legacy of 2016, including Best Opposite Wallace De Souza and Best Outside Hitter Ricardo Lucarelli.
France’s outside hitter Antonin Rouzier, who moved from Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi to Yenisei Krasnoyarsk ahead of the 2017-18 club season, has not been included in his country’s roster. Following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games the 30-year-old had announced his retirement from the National Team.
But libero Jenia Grebennikov, last year’s World League Best Libero who played a pivotal role over the club season in leading Cucine Lube Civitanova to the Italian Superleague title, remains in coach Laurent Tillie’s arsenal - alongside the other huge stars of France including 2015 World League MVP Earvin Ngapeth, Benjamin Toniutti, Nicolas Le Goff and Kevin Le Roux.
Tillie will be looking at retaining the momentum France built since their dream season of 2015 when they sailed through Group 2 to make the Final Six and promptly brushed aside all opposition there to win the title. France carried on to win the European Championship later that year and capped it all with a bronze medal in the 2016 FIVB World League.
Second only to Brazil in the World League medals table but without a gold medal since 1999, Italy, who lost to France in the bronze medal match in straight sets last year, have reshaped their line-up for 2017. They lose their top wingmen Ivan Zaytsev and Osmany Juantorena plus Emanuele Birarelli this year, but will count on Filippo Lanza to pick up the slack from the outside. And of course there’s 2016 World League Best Setter Simone Gianelli to orchestrate their offence.
Russia, who have certainly had their ups and downs since winning Olympic gold in London 2012, have also had a change of leadership on the bench, with Sergey Shliapnikov picking up the head coach position from Vladimir Alekno.
With only Dmitry Volkov, Dmitry IIlinykh and Egor Kliuka staying on from the squad that finished fourth in Rio 2016 coach Shliapnikov has revamped the Russian team in an attempt to bring it back on track.
And Poland will be headed by two-time Olympians Michal Kubiak and Bartosz Kurek, as they seek to return to the World League podium for the first time since they won gold in 2012 - when Kurek was named MVP.
The lone Asian squad in the top-tier group, Iran, are likely to showcase their finest players including setter and captain Mir Saeid Marouflakrani, middle blocker Seyed Mohammad Mousavi and outside hitter Amir Ghafour - along with some young talent that will try to adapt to a new system led by Serbian coach Igor Kolakovic.
Another South American powerhouse, Argentina, will continue their quest to develop. Coach Julio Velasco called up a mix of new players and veteran players, and although their best player Facundo Conte will be missing this year, the squad includes most of the stars that shone in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. This includes captain Luciano de Cecco who was Best Setter of the 2011 World League - the only time Argentina made it to the top four of the competition.
After claiming bronze in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, USA will be looking at repeating their 2014 World League gold, counting on the likes of that year’s MVP Taylor Sander on the outside, complemented by setter Micah Christenson and libero Erik Shoji.
And Belgium coach Vital Heynen will hope to count on top-scoring stars Sam Deroo and Gert Van Walle, while Bulgaria will have hard-hitting Tsvetan Sokolov and Todor Skrimov on their lineups.
Canada, who won promotion to Group 1 after winning last season’s Group 2, will also go through some adjustments under new coach Stephane Antiga. On the playing end, John Gordon Perrin and Nicholas Hoag will be taking over the scoring responsibilities of Gavin Schmitt, who retired after Rio 2016.