News ID: 322990
Published: 0221 GMT July 20, 2022

Streak vs. revenge: Iran, Poland to square off in VNL quarters

Streak vs. revenge: Iran, Poland to square off in VNL quarters
Iran’s Mehdi Jelveh (C) spikes during a 3-2 victory over Poland at the Volleyball Nations League in Gdansk, Poland, on July 5, 2022.

Sports Desk

A place in the Volleyball Nations League semifinals will be on the line when Iran and Poland battle it out in the Italian city of Bologna on Thursday.

As if the occasion does not provide enough motivation, both sides, often involved in war of words on and off the court, will have their personal reasons to give it their best shot for victory.

Poland will clearly be the favorite to win but Iran will still be looking to build up on back-to-back wins over the reigning world champion – including a five-set victory in the preliminary phase earlier in July – heading into the match.

Iran rallied from a set down to beat the Poles 3-2 (21-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-27, 15-7) on their home soil in Gdansk – a repeat of the triumph at the Tokyo Olympics.

The flying start in the Japanese capital eventually counted for nothing as Iran, which had Russian Vladimir Alekno as the head coach, failed to progress beyond the group phase but the result in Gdansk proved to be a pivotal point for Behrouz Ataei’s men, whose campaign had looked to be all but over following four defeats in eight, and most significantly a number of below-par performances.

Poland finished the preliminary round in the second place of the 16-team table on a 10-2 record – with the other defeat coming against Italy – standing just below the Italians on set ratio, and will hope to avenge the previous setbacks against Iran for a third successive last-four spot in the competition, having lost the final to Brazil last year after a third-spot finish in 2019.

Ataei, who steered Iran to a fourth Asian crown less than two month after taking over from Alekno, will hope to have skipper Milad Ebadipour, Amin Esmaeilnejad, and Amir Esfandiar on top form in Thursday’s encounter.

The trio played an integral part to Iran’s decent campaign in the previous phase, with Esmaeilnejad chipping in 193 points to share the second spot of the top scorers chart with Japanese Yuji Nishida – behind the Dutch opposite spiker Nimir Abdel-Aziz (231).

Iran will be playing in a second VNL Finals as the seventh-placed team on a 7-5 tally and 20pts.

The Asian powerhouse achieved its best result in the competition in 2019, when it finished the first stage in second place, but then dropped to fifth in the final standings.

No matter what the outcome Thursday, Ataei and his young, inexperienced side seem to be on the right track in their rebuild project, as the coach has insisted time and again that their ultimate goal will be to succeed at the Paris Olympics in two-years’ time.


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