For those of you new to these 2018 men’s nations league previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting May 25th (THIS FRIDAY!!!!!) taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
There aren’t a ton of opportunities to watch the Iranian men outside of the summer, so this is one of the teams I’m most looking forward to watching. They play an exciting brand of volleyball, directed by general Sir Maied Marouf and executed by a unit of explosive hitters. Seriously, these guys are trying to create an impact crater with each attack. Can Iran take advantage of what will likely be Marouf’s last Olympic cycle?
Both of Iran’s young outsides ventured outside of the domestic league to play major roles for two elite European clubs this season. 24-year-old Milad Ebadipour started for a Skra Belchatow team that won the Polish championship and averaged 2.85 points per set doing so. Mohammad Javad Manavinezhad, henceforth known as Javad Manavi, played his way into a starting spot on the fifth best team in the Italian League, Verona. It is rare for Iranian players to play in foreign leagues, and for these two to excel in their first stint outside the country is impressive. We will see whether a year abroad is enough to take starting spots from established veterans Farhad Ghaemi and Mojtaba Mirzajanpour. Their development will be put to the test in the nations league.
Marouf is, without a doubt, one of the most entertaining setters to watch in the world. Despite only being around 6’2, he is one of the most dangerous attacking setters in volleyball, never missing an opportunity to take advantage of a sleeping defense with a sneaky set over the net on the second ball. He never reveals his set until the last possible second and gets the ball to his attacker in impossible circumstances.
There are some familiar faces at the other four positions. Ghafour, Eraghi, Gholami, and Mirandi will be familiar faces to anyone that watched Iran in the Rio Olympics. All of them are good players, but good might not be enough when you get to this level of volleyball.
Iran is building off their first Olympic volleyball appearance in 2016, and command respect from every team in international competitions now. They are fun to watch, and clearly the best team in Asia. They could sneak in, but I still don’t see them as serious contenders for the final 6. Other than Marouf and maybe Ebadipour, they just don’t have the star power to consistently beat teams like Russia, USA, and Brazil.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Milad Ebadipour
OH: Javad Manavi
OP: Amir Ghafour
MB: Seyed Eraghi
MB: Adel Gholami
S: Mir Saeid Marouf
L: Mahdi Marandi