2016 Review: Canada marches to title and joins world elite

Lausanne, Switzerland, December 19, 2016 - Victory in Group 2 of the FIVB Volleyball World League is a very special kind of springboard. France showed this in 2015 when, after winning the second tier, they promptly triumphed in the final round of the annual showdown between the best national volleyball teams in the world.

Then, just months after double success in the FIVB World League, France also won the European Championship for the first time ever.

This year, it was Canada who marched to victory in Group 2. A good month after winning promotion to the pinnacle of the FIVB World League for 2017, Canada then produced an outstanding performance at the Rio Summer Games – on their first appearance at the Olympics for 24 years.

After victories over runners-up Italy and eventual bronze medallists USA, Canada surprisingly made it out of arguably the toughest pool at the Olympics, Group A – unlike France, incidentally. Only in the quarterfinals were the Canadians eventually stopped by the winners of the London Olympics, Russia.

“We laid the foundations for our strong appearance at the Olympics in the FIVB World League,” said national coach Glenn Hoag.

Hoag was honoured for his outstanding coaching with an additional award.

Under Hoag’s guidance, Canada dominated 2016 World League Group 2. In the nine Preliminary Round matches, the Canadians suffered just one defeat – 3-2 to Finland, when they had already achieved qualification for the Finals. Canada were also in a league of their own in the Finals, which took place in Matosinhos, Portugal. After a 3-0 victory over Turkey in the semifinals, the Canadian team also emphatically defeated hosts Portugal 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-15) – despite the home team receiving excellent support from thousands of fanatical fans.

“I am very happy because this is our first major title. We played focused, without any errors or letting anything stop us from the objective to win. I am very proud of the group, as they worked as a team and played disciplined volleyball,” said coach Glenn Hoag.

In the final against Portugal, outside hitters Gordon Perrin (19 points) and Nicholas Hoag (14) were the top scorers in a well-oiled team, which was never really under threat, even without superstar Gavin Schmitt. He had announced his retirement from the national team and will no longer be able to help Canada in Group 1 of the FIVB World League in 2017.

The remaining eleven teams in Group 2 were clearly playing second fiddle to the Canadians. Only Turkey were able to keep pace with them in the Preliminary Round, racking up eight wins of their own. However, they never really had a chance against Canada in the semis. For Portugal, reaching the final with a 3-1 home win against the Netherlands in front of almost 5000 fans was a great success in itself – after all, the team had finished last in the Preliminary Round with just two wins from nine matches, behind the disappointing Japanese. On the whole, the Dutch could view the season as a step in the right direction: 20 years after their historic triumph in the FIVB World League and Olympic gold in Atlanta, a 3-2 victory over Turkey in the bronze medal match did at least earn them a spot on the podium.

Finland only missed out on qualification for the Finals by one set. The top scorer in the Preliminary Round was Egyptian Ahmed Elkotb with 188 points. Egypt finished seventh in a well-matched field of twelve.

As many as 19 of the 58 matches in Group 2 of the FIVB World League went the full five sets – proof of how evenly-matched the teams were. And the 2017 competition is guaranteed to be exciting again. Group 2 will feature 12 teams. The ten teams competing in Group 2 in 2016 (China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Turkey) will be joined by 2016 Group 3 winners Slovenia, and by Australia, who finished 12th in Group 1. We can only wait and see who wins the Group 2 title this time – and who takes the next step towards the world elite.

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