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Volleyball Nations League (VNL) 2021 – Everything you need to know

The world's top 16 nations in both men's and women's volleyball are competing for five weeks in the bio-secure bubble in Rimini, Italy, in the last international test ahead of the Olympic tournament in Tokyo.
By Alessandro Poggi

The world’s 32 top nations, (16 men’s and 16 women’s teams), are competing in Rimini, Italy, for the 2021 Volleyball Nations League (VNL) title.

The third edition of the FIVB’s flagship annual international tournament, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, starts on 25 May with the women’s preliminary round and will end on 27 June with the men’s finals.

During the month-long event, a total of 248 matches will be played in the safe bubble of the Adriatic resort, with around 800 athletes competing.

Both male category winners Russia and the USA women's team will both be looking to make it three consecutive title wins in a row.

Twenty of the participating teams (10 male, 10 female) will also be in action in the Olympic volleyball tournament from 24 July.

Find out what’s the format of the VNL competition, its history and who are going to be the stars to watch.

VNL 2021 - Format

Sixteen teams qualified for the men’s and women’s event respectively.

They are going to compete in a round-robin format, with eight matches played every day across two courts for five weeks.

The women will play from Tuesday to Thursday, then men from Friday until Sunday.

The top four teams from the preliminary round will advance to the knock-out round, with the semi-final winners playing for the VNL title.

This year there won’t be any promotion or relegation and the 16 participants will also compete in the 2022 edition.

VNL 2021 – Secure bubble

Unlike the two previous multi-destination editions, the 2021 VNL will be entirely played in one location.

Over 1,000 people, including athletes, officials and TV production crew, will be hosted in the bio-secure bubble in Rimini.

The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) designed a strict protocol of rules to protect the health and well-being of all participants.

A negative PCR test is necessary prior to departing for the event and everyone will be tested upon arrival and every four day during their stay.

Men and women will stay in different hotels, while gyms and training courts will be used according to a pre-approved schedule.

In an effort to minimise close contacts, there will be no spectators and matches will be played without line judges and ball retrievers. Handshakes, exchange of gifts and switching court sides have also been eliminated.

Delegations have been capped to a maximum of 25 persons, including players and staff - though a change of up to six person will be possible midway through the tournament (9 June for the women, 12 June for the men).

VNL – History

The FIVB announced the Volleyball Nations League in October 2017 and the first edition took place in 2018.

Russia won the first two editions of the men’s tournament, with USA taking the first two women’s titles.

The VNL replaced the World League (men) and the World Grand Prix (women), two former international events that ran from 1990 and 1993 respectively.

Brazil is the nation with most titles across both competitions (21: 9 World League titles, 12 Grand Prix titles).

Beijing 2008 and London 2012 gold medallist Fabiana is the most successful woman with seven Grand Prix titles.

One of Brazil's Olympic champions from 2004, Giba, is the most decorated man in volleyball’s prestigious annual tournament (8 World League titles).

VNL - Stars to watch

Men's tournament

Most of the nations taking part in the 2021 Volleyball Nations League will field their strongest teams, starting with men’s reigning Olympic champions Brazil.

In-form outside hitter Yoandy Leal headlines the South Americans’ 16-player roster, with team captain Bruno Rezende, opposite Wallace de Souza and Ricardo Lucarelli among the other stars.

Rio 2016 best spiker Maxim Mikhaylov and two-time VNL winners Dmitriy Volkov and Egor Kliuka are Russia’s most representative players as they chase a third back-to-back title.

Poland, world champions back in 2018, are led by Cuban-born spiker Wilfredo Leon, who will make his debut in the competition, while CEV Champions League MVP Aleksander Sliwka and two-time world gold medallist Michal Kubiak are some of the other names to watch.

Women's tournament

In the women’s tournament, experienced captain Jordan Larson leads a USA squad packed with stars, including the MVPs of the previous two editions Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Annie Drews.

Brazil are spearheaded by outside hitter Gabi Guimaraes and middle blocker Ana Beatriz ‘Bia’ Correa, along with setter Macris Carneiro: all three were part of the 2019 VNL Dream Team.

Reigning world champions Serbia, along with runners-up Italy, opted for a team without their big stars, meaning that in Rimini we won't see the likes of Tijana Boskovic and Paola Egonu.

Olympic champions China have the smallest delegation in Rimini (13 players) and coach Lang Ping made a similar decision: her list doesn’t feature legendary captain Zhu Ting.

VNL 2021 - Teams and Schedule

Teams

Mens' teams: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, USA.

Women's teams: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, USA.

Schedule

May 25 - June 20 Women's preliminary round (8 games a day, played from Tuesday to Thursday)

May 28 - June 23 Men's preliminary round (8 games a day, played from Friday to Sunday)

June 24: Women's semi-finals

June 25: Women's 3-4, 1-2 finals

June 26: Men's semi-finals

June 27: Men's 3-4, 1-2 finals