The Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournaments in Japan and Mexico on Sunday confirmed the final five spots, with Poland, Iran, France, Canada and Mexico all claiming the last berths.
The pools were allocated using the serpentine system, with those with the highest world ranking as of January 1, 2016 drawn first into Pool B after hosts Brazil (who are automatically placed in Pool A).
Brazil beat Italy in the semifinals of the London 2012 Olympic Games but were beaten by USA in the pool stage. They were also downed by France during last year’s World League Finals at the Maracanãzinho, the same venue that will host the Olympic Games.
USA will have confidence knowing that they have beaten both France and Italy in the last 12 months. However, the side have not beaten Brazil in the last year and will be looking to find a way to control the hosts.
Canada and Mexico complete the group, and with the former winning bronze at last year’s Pan American Games and finding the spirit to qualify for the Games in Japan on June 5, they will fancy their chances against the top teams.
It will be an Olympic versus world champion showdown in Pool B, with London 2012 gold medallists Russia set to meet World Championship 2014 winners Poland. The Poles won all four of their World League matches with Russia during last year’s World League and will be confident they have the form to beat them. But they were defeated in five sets by the world No.3 at the European Olympic Qualification Tournament in Berlin, Germany in January which is something that Stephane Antiga’s team will be looking to address.
The ever-improving Iranians, now under the guidance of legendary Argentinean coach Raul Lozano, will be breathing down the necks of both sides however. They beat Poland as recently as June 4, seeing them off in four sets at the Olympic qualifier in Japan, albeit after Poland had booked their Rio 2016 berth.
Argentina will also be looking to the likes of the talismanic Luciano De Cecco and Sebastian Solé to push them into the quarterfinals and beyond. That is how far they progressed in 2012, with 2016 hosts Brazil ending their campaign in straight sets. Both Solé and De Cecco played that day, as did Nicolas Uriate, Nicolas Bruno, Rodrigo Quiroga, Pablo Crer and a host of other Argentinean stars who will be desperate to improve on that result in Rio.
Cuba and Egypt complete the group, with the former looking to revive the glory days of the 1976 Montreal Olympics bronze-medal winning side and the latter aiming for a top 10 finish for the first time after placing 11th at Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 and 10th at Los Angeles 1984.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games men’s volleyball tournament runs from August 7 until August 21.