What happened and what’s next in Olympic men’s volleyball qualification

Photo courtesy of the FIVB

The Olympic qualification tournaments featured everything from near upsets to the defending Olympic bronze medalists United States securing its spot at the 2020 games in Tokyo.

Check out what to know about the matches from the weekend, the current Olympic tournament field and what teams are still in contention for the remaining Olympic berths.

Teams earning Olympic bids

Team Ranking How it qualified
United States No. 2 Beat Belgium, South Korea and the Netherlands to win the Pool B championship
Brazil No. 1 Beat Bulgaria, Egypt and Puerto Rico to win the Pool A championship
Italy No. 3 Beat Cameroon, Australia and Serbia to win the Pool C championship
Poland No. 4 Beat Tunisia, France and Slovenia to win the Pool D championship
Russia No. 5 Beat Mexico, Cuba and Iran to the Pool E championship
Argentina No. 7 Beat Canada, Finland and China to the Pool F championship
Japan No. 11 Host nation

Five more Olympic bids will be awarded during the continental stage to complete the 12-team field.

Takeaways from this qualification stage

Russell is back — Outside attacker Aaron Russell rebounded from an injury-plagued FIVB Volleyball Nations League to help the United States clinch an Olympic berth. The former Penn State All-American outside attacker had double-digit kills in all three qualification matches, including 14 kills in the team’s Olympic bid clinching victory against the Netherlands on Sunday. Russell also was third Pool B with both a 57.97 percent offensive efficiency and a 0.27 aces per game average.

Shoji simply sensational — Libero Erik Shoji finished qualification averaging a pool-best 2.45 digs per game as the United States earned a berth to its 10th consecutive Olympics.This was the third-best digs per game average for any player in all six qualification pools. The former Stanford All-American also spearheaded U.S. defensive performance that included the team having at least 20 digs in all three qualification matches.


Poland contender for gold medal — The most hyped match entering the qualification weekend turned into a blow out. Poland swept France on Saturday en route to going undefeated in qualification and reaching its fifth consecutive Olympics. Outside attacker Wilfredo Leon Venro, who joined Poland after defecting from Cuba, finished with a match-high 16 kills against France. Setter Fabian Drzyzga also led Pool D averaging 5.00 excellent sets per game.

South America punches multiple tickets — It wasn’t pretty for Brazil, but it rallied from a two-game deficit to beat Bulgaria in five games on Sunday and clinch an Olympic berth. Argentina went undefeated in its qualification pool and was the only non-top-six ranked team to win a pool championship and earn an Olympic bid. With both Brazil and Argentina earning Olympic berths, a third South American team will receive an Olympic berth during the continental qualification stage.

Russian momentum continues — Russia one month after winning the gold medal at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals won all three of its qualification matches. Opposite Victor Poletaev led all players with 16 kills and two aces as Russia swept Iran in its tournament finale on Saturday to clinch the Olympic berth. Poletaev also was second in Pool E with both a 60.87 percent offensive efficiency and a 0.56 aces per game average.

What’s next: Continental Qualification

The remaining five bids for the 2020 Olympics will be awarded to the winners of the five continental qualifying tournaments that will take place Jan. 6-12. Teams that have yet to qualify for the Olympics will be placed into one of five tournaments based geography — Europe, Africa, North and Central America, South America, and Asia and Australia.

Three likely favorites in European qualifier
France —
Reached the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals the last two years and won the silver medal in 2018
Serbia — Advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 FIVB World Championship
Bulgaria — Had Brazil at match-point in the third game with a chance to clinch an Olympic berth before the No. 1 team in the world rankings rallied to win five games on Sunday

Three likely favorites in North and Central American qualifier
Canada —
Won the bronze medal at the 2017 FIVB World League and the only top-six ranked team yet to qualify for the Olympics
Cuba — Won this tournament in 2016 to qualify for the Olympics and won 2019 NORCECA Challenger Cup
Puerto Rico — Numerous former NCAA players on this roster with championship experience

Three likely favorites in Asian and Australian qualifier
Iran —
Finished the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary round in second place and reached the Volleyball Nations League Finals
Australia — Advanced to the second round of the 2018 FIVB World Championship
China — Lost in decisive fifth games to both Argentina and Canada this weekend to prevent the country from qualifying for the Olympics.

Three likely favorites in South American qualifier
Chile —
Represented South America the last two years in the FIVB Challenger Cup and finished the 2019 Pan American Games in fourth place
Colombia — Three consecutive top-four finishes in the Men’s Junior South American Volleyball Championship
Peru — Finished in eighth place at the 2019 Pan American Cup

Three likely favorites in African qualifier
Tunisia —
Won gold medals at the two most recent African Men’s Volleyball Championship
Cameroon — Won the silver medal at the 2019 African Men’s Volleyball Championship
Algeria — Defeated Egypt, the defending African Olympic Qualification Tournament champion, in the bronze-medal match of the 2019 African Men’s Volleyball Championship