Sell-out crowd in Varna witnesses the greatest match of the 2019 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers

Sell-out crowd in Varna witnesses the greatest match of the 2019 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers

The drawing of lots for the FIVB Road to Paris Olympic volleyball qualifier events in September and October will take place on Friday, March 17, at 12:00 UTC and will be streamed live on the Volleyball World channel in YouTube and on VBTV. The 24 highest ranked teams per gender will be split into three qualification tournaments of eight to be held in China, Japan and Poland for women, and in Brazil, China and Japan for Men. The top two in the final standings of each pool will join hosts France among the first teams with secure spots at Paris 2024.

Now let’s remember some of the most exciting moments of the Road to Tokyo qualifiers four years ago:

August 11, 2019. The Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna is loaded. The atmosphere around the competition court is more electrifying than ever. The Bulgarian fans are all standing on their toes, ready to explode. In the deciding match, the inspired Lions lead reigning Olympic champions Brazil by 2-0 and, after a fantastic ace by star opposite Tsvetan Sokolov, they are at a 26-25 match point in the third set. Bulgaria is one point away from a huge upset and a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games...

Sokolov’s jump serve goes long...

The home team never made that coveted last point. Bruno Rezende, Yoandy Leal, Ricardo Lucarelli and the rest of their teammates mounted an incredible comeback to bring the home fans to tears with a 3-2 (23-25, 19-25, 32-20, 25-16, 15-11) Brazilian victory as they booked the single ticket to Tokyo available from that four-team world qualification tournament.

Watch a full replay of that memorable game on VBTV or see the highlights below:

In another thrilling game that day, in front of almost five thousand spectators in Ningbo, China needed a three-point victory over Argentina to qualify for Tokyo, after losing to Canada in a dramatic tie-breaker the previous day. With Jiang Chuan on fire (27 points in the match), the day was looking bright for the home team and they cruised through the first set to win it by a wide margin. However, the South Americans put their act together and battled back to take the next two sets and stamp their visas for the Olympics. They went on to win the match 3-2 (19-25, 25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 15-9) and eventually celebrated with the bronze medals in Tokyo.

These were just two of the great games played by 24 men’s national teams during that first stage of qualifiers on the road to Tokyo 2020. On that hot August day in 2019, Italy, Poland, Russia and the United States also secured their spots at the Games in the Japanese capital.

There was a lot of drama in the women’s Olympic qualifiers the week before too, especially in Kaliningrad, where heavy favourites Russia fell two sets down to Korea in the deciding match. In the third set, the Asians had a 22-18 advantage. Cheered on by nearly seven thousand fans, the home team sided out and, with Nataliya Goncharova serving and an out-of-this-world Irina Fetisova completely denying any opponents’ attempts to score, they went on an amazing seven-point spree to win the set by 25-22 and change the momentum of the match towards a 3-2 (21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-16, 15-11) victory and a ticket to Tokyo.

Watch a full replay of that memorable game on VBTV or see some of Fetisova’s brilliant performances below:

It was a nail-biting experience for the Bulgarian fans of their women’s national team as well. Hosts United States and the Balkan Lionesses were the main candidates for the Olympic berth from the pool in Shreveport-Bossier City, but the Americans were considered the heavy favourites. However, in the direct clash between the two, Bulgaria put up a mighty effort and the Olympic champions-to-be, led by Tokyo 2020 MVP-to-be Jordan Larson, were forced to come back from a set down twice in the match before finally celebrating a five-set 3-2 (21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10) win.

Brazil, China, Italy and Serbia were the other women’s teams that claimed their Tokyo 2020 berths at that stage of the qualification process.