Lausanne, Switzerland, May 30, 2017 – Under Vladimir Alekno, Russia were a formidable team but not, it seems, formidable enough. Alekno has been replaced by Sergey Shliapnikov and Russia’s squad in this year’s FIVB World League is clearly a transitional one.
Russia won the World League in 2011 and 2013, with Olympic gold in London sandwiched in between. But that was then and this is now. In the last three years, Russia finished fifth, eighth and seventh in the World League and failed to medal at the Rio Olympics, where they finished fourth.
For this year’s World League, only Dmitry Volkov, Dmitry IIlinykh and Egor Kliuka remain from the Rio squad as coach Shliapnikov, who has won two World Championships and six European titles as coach of Russia’s youth teams, seeks to bring new blood and new motivation into the team. While Russia have been sleeping, new faces have been emerging.
Dmitry Volkov celebrates a point during the 2016 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World League
Russia won the World League for the first time in 2002, but Brazil took seven of the next eight championships. Russia responded in 2011 and 2013, while the United States also picked up a couple of titles.
But it is the emergence of other powers that is threatening the “Big 3.” Poland won in 2012, France in 2015 and Serbia breezed past Brazil to take the title in 2016. Behind them, the likes of Italy, Iran, Argentina and Bulgaria have all impressed and pushed their way into the picture.
With a new Olympic cycle under way, chances are that more surprises are in store for the World League in 2017, but Russia have started confidently, winning five games in five days at the end of May to qualify for the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship.
However, two of the stars of that particular tournament – Sergey Grankin and the talismanic Maxim Mikhailov – will not be appearing in this year’s World League. Neither will 2012 Olympic champion Alexander Volkov, 32, who is skipping the entire season for the national team.
In the first round of the World League, Russia will be at home, where they will face 2015 champions France, Bulgaria and Argentina. After that, they travel to France to face their hosts, Italy and the United States before playing Iran, Poland and USA in Poland.
“The leadership of the federation have an understanding of the enormous amount of work we have ahead of us,” says Shliapnikov, who has ensured that he has control over age-category teams to allow for a smooth upward progression toward the senior team as he seeks to re-establish Russia at the pinnacle of the men’s game.
Setters: Sergey Antipkin, Pavel Pankov, Dmitriy Kovalev
Opposite hitters: Maxim Zhigalov, Alexander Chefranov, Alexander Kimerov, Egor Feoktistov
Middle blockers: Ilyas Kurkaev, Vadim Likhosherstov, Ilya Vlasov, Dmitriy Shcherbinin
Outside hitters: Dmitriy Volkov, Dmitriy Ilinykh, Denis Biryukov, Egor Kluka
Liberos: Valentin Krotkov, Artem Zelenkov, Roman Martynyuk