Heynens own Drawing of Lots highlights opening press conference at mens Olympic qualifier in Berlin


Photo CEV

Germanys histrionic mentor Vital Heynen accounted for the most memorable and unpredictable moment on Monday morning as the coaches of eight elite teams competing at the mens European Olympic qualifier in Berlin met with dozens of media on the eve of the much anticipated first competition day in Germanys capital. The eventual winners of the tournament who will be crowned on Sunday will join the runners-up from the 2015 World Cup in Japan, Italy to extend the European contingent for the mens Volleyball competition of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Though all coaches agreed it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to make any predictions about who is going to come out on top in the end, Heynen decided to go for a rather unconventional way to determine the eventual winners, runners-up and third-placed side of the European Olympic qualifier. After recalling the story of a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a financial newspaper who was more successful in predicting ups and downs on the stock exchange market than real experts in the business, Heynen asked one of the journalists in attendance to draw from a small pot the names of the three teams that will be topping the charts by the end of this week.

The three lucky ones were Belgium, Serbia and Finland. Lets imagine that these are the predictions made by the monkey, Heynen said. So if we want to succeed and make it to Rio, we have to turn the odds and be stronger than the monkey!

Though Heynen was quite unconventional and creative in his way of describing the tournament, his point of view was shared by all other coaches, starting with Dominique Baeyens, who is at the helm of Belgiums Red Dragons and will be the first to play hosts Germany on Tuesday. We just beat France 3:0 in a friendly match but we all know that friendly matches do not necessarily reflect what is going to happen once the real competition starts, he said. However, I can say that going into this tournament I have better feelings than before the mens EuroVolley a couple of months ago, Baeyens added referring to the competition held in Bulgaria and Italy last October where Belgium lost to Germany in the Playoff round. The 14 players on the roster are all in good shape; only one player had some problems in the run up to the competition but he has now fully recovered as well.

The other teams included in Pool A are Poland and Serbia who on Tuesday will be locking horns for a real Clash of the Titans. Poland are the reigning world champions and just beat Canada in two friendly matches before travelling to Berlin: We know this is a very difficult tournament but we have come here to take our chance and qualify to Rio. We also know even before the start of the competition that some of Europes top teams wont qualify in the end, but thats the way it is. I am convinced that motivation and the right approach to the matches will be making the difference in the end, Polands mentor Stphane Antiga said.

Photo CEV

His words were echoed by Serbias Volleyball legend Nikola Grbic, himself an Olympic gold medallist at Sydney 2000: I think we all share the same situation. We had very little time to prepare for this tournament because our players have been busy with their respective clubs up until Christmas. We are trying to make the best out of this and I am sure we all selected the players who are in the best shape right now. In my opinion individual skills and performances by some key players will determine who makes it through in the end, Grbic said.

2012 Olympic champions Russia had a disappointing year in 2015, underperforming in the FIVB Volleyball World League and missing out on a spot in the semis of the EuroVolley, but they definitely remain a force to be reckoned with. They just won two friendly matches with Germany before the New Years Eve but head coach Vladimir Alekno remains cautious: We all had a very short time to get ready for this extremely important tournament; at this stage it is difficult to assess the level of the other teams and also to understand where we stand right now. We will get to know this once the tournament gets underway, he said. The audience will definitely provide an extra boost to the German team but the Max-Schmeling-Halle is also a lucky place for me, he added, recalling that only ten months ago he lifted the trophy of the CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League when leading Russias standout Zenit KAZAN.

Russias first opponent on Tuesday will be Finland and according to the draw performed by Vital Heynen, the Suomis have to be taken seriously, not only because of the many fans that will be cheering them on from the stands. We are very happy to be in this tournament, their mentor Tuomas Sammelvuo said. This competition features the current European, World and Olympic champions and I cant remember of any other Volleyball competition which has been as competitive as this one. We have some new players, but we will be trying to perform our best and pose a real threat even to the big guns.

2015 European champions France and Bulgaria complete the line-up of this elite tournament. France were definitely the star team in 2015 with their gold-medal performances in the FIVB Volleyball World League and at the EuroVolley, but they still have to fight to secure their trip to Rio 2016. We had only a few days to prepare for this tournament, but this is a situation we share with all other teams, their coach Laurent Tillie said. We will be taking it one match at a time, knowing that the mission to accomplish is very a difficult one.

Plamen Konstantinov, the mentor of Bulgarias national team, concluded: We recently lost two matches to Serbia and have been trying to fix some problems in the meantime. This is an extremely competitive tournament and I believe we can hardly predict who is going to finish on top because each and every team performing here has the quality and skills to represent Europe at the Olympics.

CEV Vice President and Jury President Lubor Halanda drew the line and said: Its only a few weeks since the EuroVolley came to an end and we start the New Year with the most competitive tournament we probably ever had. As I wish the best of luck to all teams, I would like to thank the German Volleyball Federation, the local organisers here in Berlin and the many volunteers for a job well done. The stage at Max-Schmeling-Halle is a fabulous one and we can look forward to a few days packed with great Volleyball on the #RoadToRio.

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Hinweis: Dies ist ein aktueller Bericht vom 04.01.2016!

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