Lausanne, Switzerland, December 26, 2018 – It may have come as a surprise to some, but the White-and-Reds of Poland were at their best when it counted most in 2018 when they won their second consecutive FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship title in Italy and Bulgaria. And once again they beat Brazil for the gold, this time in just three sets – 3-0 (28-26, 25-20, 25-23).
Poland's collection of World Championship titles now includes victories in 2018, 2014 and 1974. They also have one silver medal to their name, from the 2006 edition, when they lost the final to Brazil.
The 2018 World Championship was held under an exciting new format, which made every game count. The 24 participating teams were split into four round-robin pools of six, played in Florence, Ruse, Bari and Varna, with the exception of the grand opening game between Italy and Japan in Rome. The best four of each pool advanced to the second round, along with their complete records from the first round. Scrambled into four pools of four, played in Milan, Bologna, Sofia and Varna, they determined the best six, who progressed to the two third-round pools of three in Turin.
In a dramatic turn of events in third round Pool J, hosts Italy lost in straight sets to Serbia to disappoint the home crowd of almost 12 thousand spectators, but then Poland squeezed out a hard-fought shutout of the Balkan team. In the deciding match, the defending champions took two sets before losing the eventual tie-breaker to Italy, and this was enough for them to top the pool standings, leaving the home team out of contention.
In the opening match of Pool I, Brazil battled back from a two-set deficit against Russia to claim a dramatic five-set victory. The following day the Russians also lost to USA in straight sets to bid farewell to their hopes of a podium finish. With both teams having qualified for the semifinals, the South American side shut out the North Americans in the last match to finish first in the pool.
Brazil cruised to the gold medal match with a straight-set win over Serbia in their semifinal, but it was not as straightforward for Poland. Coach Vital Heynen’s squad came back from a 2-1 lag in sets in their encounter with the United States to win dramatically in the fifth set after almost two and a half hours of play. The Americans bounced back with a four-set victory over the Serbs to claim the bronze before it was time for Poland and Brazil to settle the title, meeting each other in a World Championship final for the third time in the last four editions of FIVB’s flagship event.
With a phenomenal performance by their big star Bartosz Kurek, who scored 24 points (including two aces and two stuff blocks) over the three sets of the final, Poland triumphed with the trophy after a 3-0 victory in front of over 12,000 fans who flocked to the Pala Alpitour to see the gold medal game.
“Other coaches have great players, but I have a great team, able to play their very best match of the tournament in the final,” Vital Heynen commented upon the end of the Championship. “We simply kept playing and playing as the pressure rose...”
Three weeks, 94 matches, 353 sets, 15,522 rallies, or a total of 162 hours and 23 minutes of thrilling volleyball at the 2018 FIVB Men's World Championship were summed up in three words in the title of SportsPro’s editorial – “magical, inspirational, spectacular.”