Brazil will take on long-time rivals the United States for a spot in the semifinals

Despite a defeat to Italy in their last Preliminary Phase match on Sunday, the Netherlands held on to their eighth place and secured the final spot in the Volleyball Nations League 2022 Finals, setting up four exciting matchups for the quarterfinals in Bologna, Italy.

Dutch and Italians will meet again in less than two weeks in one of the four quarterfinals of the event, with the other three reuniting reigning world champions Poland and Asian champions Iran, reigning VNL champions Brazil and three-time Olympic champions the United States and reigning Olympic champions France and Asian powerhouse Japan.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

Two quarterfinal matches will open the Finals in Bologna on July 20 (USA vs Brazil at 18.00 local time/16.00 GMT and Italy vs the Netherlands at 21.00 local time/19.00 GMT), with the two others to follow on the next day (France vs. Japan at 18.00 local time/16.00 GMT and Poland vs Iran at 21.00 local time/19.00 GMT). After a day off, the event will continue on July 23 with the semifinals and come to an end with the medal matches on July 24.

Reigning champions Brazil will have a challenging path to successfully defend their 2021 VNL title, starting in the quarterfinals with one of their fiercest rivals. Brazilians and Americans have a long-standing rivalry, having met in two Olympic gold medal matches and several other key matches over the last few decades.

The Americans, who ended the Preliminary Phase in third place with ten wins and two losses, were one of four teams to defeat Brazil so far, topping the South Americans in four sets in front of their home fans in Brasilia during the opening week of the VNL. Last year, at the Tokyo Olympics, however, the Brazilians won by the same score.

Brazil lost opposite Alan de Souza to injury during the VNL and saw his younger brother, Darlan, step up and replace him in the starting lineup. The Americans, on the other hand, got stronger in the third week of the tournament when star setter Micah Christenson joined the team.

The second-best team in the Preliminary Phase with ten wins and just two losses, Poland will try to improve on the silver medal they won in 2021. Despite the absence of injured star outside hitter Wilfredo Leon, the Poles have had no issues maintaining their form, with opposite Bartosz Kurek and outside hitters Aleksander Sliwka and Kamil Semeniuk stepping up to produce for the team in big moments.

One of the key points for the Poles against Iran will be containing 25-year-old opposite Amin Esmaeilnezhad. Playing in the VNL for the first time in his career, he has helped the Asians win seven of their 12 Preliminary Phase matches and rank seventh with his 193 points, the second-highest mark in the entire tournament. He was arguably one of the main reasons for one of the two Polish losses so far, leading Iran to a surprising 3-2 win just a few days ago in Gdansk.

Dutch player Nimir Abdel-Aziz is another high-scoring opposite who will have a key role for his team in the quarterfinals. The top scorer (231 points), top hitter (191) and top server (30) of the VNL so far, he’ll need to be at his absolute best for the Netherlands to be able to challenge Italy, after the Dutch ended the Preliminary Phase with six wins and six losses.

The Italians played their first 12 matches in the VNL 2022 without pressure, knowing they had a place guaranteed in the Finals, but won ten to finish with the best campaign among the 16 teams. The reigning European champions will likely be even stronger in the Finals as they will play in front of their fans and have recently integrated star opposite Ivan Zaytsev to the team.


Italian star opposite Zaytsev returned to action this week in Gdansk

The fourth quarterfinal matchup should be another exciting one, reuniting France and Japan, two teams that ended the Preliminary Phase with similar campaigns of nine wins and three losses.

The French have preserved the core of the squad that won gold last year in Tokyo and will count on the talent of star outside hitter Earvin Ngapeth and team captain Benjamin Toniutti to defeat Japan and repeat the result of their encounter in the Preliminary Phase.

The Japanese, however, have one of the most dynamic and productive duos of the VNL 2022, with opposite Yuji Nishida and outside hitter Yuki Ishikawa having combined to produce 357 points, 278 kills and 56 aces during the Preliminary Phase.

At the bottom of the standings, Australia, who ended their campaign losing to France in straight sets, ended as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament with one win and two points and will need to win this year’s Volleyball Challenger Cup to earn a spot in the VNL 2023.

In the semifinals, the winners of Italy vs. Netherlands (Quarterfinal 1) will take on the winners of France vs. Japan (Quarterfinal 4), and the winners of Poland vs. Iran (Quarterfinal 2) will take on the winners of USA vs. Brazil (Quarterfinal 3).

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