2016 Review: Giani leads newcomers Slovenia to victory


Slovenia celebrate a point during the 2016 FIVB Volleyball World League Group 3 final

Lausanne, Switzerland, December 18, 2016 - Three teams made their FIVB Volleyball World League Group 3 debuts in 2016 - two of the three progressed to the final, and Slovenia came out on top.

Led by legendary player Andrea Giani, now a coach, the 2015 European Championship runners-up claimed the title courtesy of victory over Germany in the final, who had finished third in the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in Poland a year earlier. With Giani, Slovenia now have of the most successful players ever calling the shots from the sidelines. Giani won the World League seven times with Italy between 1991 and 2000, and was a world champion on three occasions.

“Congratulations to my players. I’m very happy that we could win the gold medal in our first season. It was important that we played our best volleyball in the right moments. Germany was a very tough opponent,” said Giani. He has formed the Slovenian volleyball team into a top team, virtually from scratch. Last year, Slovenia won a sensational silver medal at the European Championship, defeating the likes of world champions Poland and Giani’s native Italy en route to the final. The Slovenians then made their debut in the FIVB World League this year – with spectacular success. The team suffered just one defeat in the preliminary round, in the form of a 3-1 loss to Greece – having already qualified for the Final Four. Slovenia then went on to win the title in style. 3-0 in the semifinal against Greece, and 3-1 (25-19, 25-18, 21-15, 25-20) against the Germans in front of a frenetic crowd in Frankfurt. Slovenia’s reward is a place in Group 2 of the FIVB World League in 2017.

Slovenian top scorer Mitja Gasparini scored 12 points in his team's semifinal victory over Greece before claiming another 14 against Germany (Slovenia's top scorer in that match was Tine Urnaut with 17 points). The two matches took Gasparini's total for the competition to 113 points. Gasparini was outscored by two players over the duration of the Group 3 competition, however. Marko Bojic of Montenegro scored a total of 125 points for his team and Kervin Pinerua of Venezuela scored 116.

“Congratulations to Slovenia. The best team won Group 3,” came the praise from the new Belgian coach Vitals Heynen, at this time responsible for Germany, who finished third at the World Championship. Experienced hitter Tine Urnaut has been instrumental in the rise of the Slovenian team. "At the beginning of preparations we set a clear goal, which was to be promoted to the second group of the World League. And we have achieved that. We had a fantastic tournament, in which we managed to raise the level of our game compared with the first matches. For this success I would like to thank my teammates, especially coach Giani, the whole headquarters and of course the fans who have accompanied us. We are really pleased that we managed to win.”

Slovenia was the best of the three newcomers, but the other two also impressed. Qatar won three of six matches and ended the preliminary round in sixth place out of twelve teams. Chinese Taipei also progressed to the Final Four on the back of four wins from six preliminary-round matches. However, a 3-0 defeat to hosts Germany scuppered any hopes of winning the title. They then lost 3-1 in the bronze medal match to Greece, who at least claimed a spot on the podium. It proved to be a disappointing tournament for hosts Germany. They were many people’s favourites for promotion to Group 2, but were ultimately denied that goal by the newcomers from Slovenia.

Group 3 of the FIVB World League promises plenty of excitement again in 2017. 12 teams (Chinese Taipei, Germany, Greece, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Montenegro, Qatar, Spain, Tunisia, and Venezuela will be joined by Estonia and Austria) will play over two weekends in four-team pools, with the top three of the combined standings joining the hosts in the Final Four from June 16 to 18.

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