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Three tournaments, four berths

Men's World Olympic Qualifying Tournaments preview
By Jon Ackerman, NBCOlympics.com
Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:26 AM ET

It could be called the Sweet 16, but that generally refers to the last teams left in any one tournament. Sixteen men's volleyball teams remain in the hunt for the final four Olympic berths, but three tournaments over the next two weeks will determine which four go to Beijing.

Unlike the ongoing Women's World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where eight teams are in Tokyo playing for four spots, four men's teams will compete for one berth in Germany at MWOQT #1; four other teams will go to Portugal for MWOQT #2 with another spot on the line; and eight more squads will take over Tokyo when the women are done for MWOQT #3. The latter doubles as the Asian men's Olympic qualifying tournament, meaning the top Asian team -- no matter what place it finishes -- will earn a trip to Beijing, in addition to whichever team places first (two Asian teams could qualify if they finish 1-2).

Men's teams already in the 2008 Games are China, Brazil, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, U.S., Venezuela and Egypt. A closer look at each remaining team:

Men's World Olympic Qualifying Tournament #1 - Dusseldorf, Germany, May 23-25

Jose Luis Molto has helped Spain to some big wins of late.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/Getty Images
Jose Luis Molto has helped Spain to some big wins of late.

Spain (No. 6 in FIVB world rankings)
Player to watch: Luis Jose Molto, a 32-year-old middle blocker, was named Best Blocker at the 2007 European Championships, where Spain won its first European title after upsetting Russia. Molto is one of six World Cup players from Spain's 2000 Olympic squad.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 5th
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Cuba (No. 17)
Player to watch: Odelvis Dominico Speek, the oldest player on Cuba's young team at 31 years old. The middle blocker is the only one on the team to have played in the 2002 and 2006 World Championships.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: 15th (tied)
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Germany (No. 19)
Player to watch: Andrae Bjorn, Germany's captain and 27-year-old outside hitter. He was his team's leading scorer at the 2006 World Championships, where he scored 128 points.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: 9th
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Chinese Taipei (No. 39)
Player to watch: Jung Chung Hung, Chinese Taipei's captain and oldest player at just 25 years old. The outside hitter is the only Taipei player on the 18-man qualifier roster born before 1987.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Men's World Olympic Qualifying Tournament #2 - Espinho, Portugal, May 30-June 1

Piotr Gruszka is looking to compete in his third Olympics.
AFP/Getty Images
Piotr Gruszka is looking to compete in his third Olympics.

Poland (No. 5)
Player to watch: Piotr Gruszka, Poland's 31-year-old captain, led the team in scoring at the Athens Olympics and also appeared in the 1996 Games as a 19-year-old.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: 2nd
2004 Olympics: quarterfinals
2003 World Cup: n/a

Puerto Rico (No. 8)
Player to watch: Hector Soto, the team captain and 29-year-old outside hitter. The 2007 World Cup's top scorer, Soto played college volleyball at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he was a 2006 IPFW Hall of Fame inductee.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 6th
2006 Worlds: 12th
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Portugal (No. 39)
Player to watch: Joao Jose, a 29-year-old outside blocker and Portugal's captain. He was named the best blocker at the 2002 World Championships, where Portugal placed eighth.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Indonesia (No. 39)
Player to watch: Ayip Rizal, Indonesia's tallest player at 6-foot-4. He'll have his hands full especially with Poland, which features 10 players at least 6-6.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Men's World Olympic Qualifying Tournament #3 - Tokyo, Japan, May 31-June 8

Argentina will rely on Guillermo Garcia's prolific scoring.
KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images
Argentina will rely on Guillermo Garcia's prolific scoring.

Argentina (No. 6)
Player to watch: Guillermo Garcia, a 24-year-old outside hitter who was Argentina's top scorer (fourth overall) at the 2007 World Cup. Argentina will be without veteran leader Marcos Milinkovic while he tends to a family issue, so Garcia will need to continue to carry the load.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 7th
2006 Worlds: 13th
2004 Olympics: quarterfinals
2003 World Cup: n/a

Italy (No. 10)
Player to watch: Luigi Mastrangelo, a 32-year-old middle blocker who helped Italy to bronze at the 2000 Olympics and silver at the 2004 Games. He was his team's best blocker at the 2006 Worlds and 2004 Olympics.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: 5th
2004 Olympics: 2nd
2003 World Cup: 2nd

Australia (No. 11)
Player to watch: Daniel Howard, a 31-year-old veteran middle blocker. His team's tallest (6-10) and second-oldest player, Howard hopes to get Australia into his third straight Olympics, which would be his country's third appearance overall in men's volleyball.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 8th
2006 Worlds: 21st (tied)
2004 Olympics: preliminary round
2003 World Cup: n/a

Japan (No. 12)
Player to watch: Takahiro Yamamoto, a 29-year-old left-handed outside hitter who was Japan's leading scorer at the 2006 Worlds. This will be the third major men's volleyball tournament Japan has hosted in the past three years, as the 2006 Worlds and 2007 World Cup also were played in Japan.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 9th
2006 Worlds: 8th
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: 9th

South Korea (No. 16)
Player to watch: Kyung-Soo Lee, a 29-year-old outside hitter who was on South Korea's 2000 Olympic squad. He was named Best Spiker of the 2007 Asian Volleyball Championships.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: 11th
2006 Worlds: 17th (tied)
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: 6th

Iran (No. 26)
Player to watch: Peyman Akbari, Iran's 30-year-old captain who helped his country to a 2002 Asian Games silver medal, its best all-time finish, and a bronze medal at the 2003 Asian Championships. Iran has never been to the Olympics.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: 21st (tied)
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Thailand (No. 28)
Player to watch: Pongsakorn Nimawan, Thailand's 23-year-old setter and team captain. Listed at 6-3, Nimawan is one of the tallest players on a team with no one over 6-5.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a

Algeria (No. 60)
Player to watch: Kerboua Ali, a 25-year-old left-side specialist. The captain is looking to get Algeria into the Olympics for the first time, a feat the women's team will accomplish in Beijing.

Recent results:
2007 World Cup: n/a
2006 Worlds: n/a
2004 Olympics: n/a
2003 World Cup: n/a


Inside the Sport

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Volleyball matches are best-of-five sets. In the first four sets, the first team to 25 with a two-point lead wins. Fifth sets are played to 15 with a lead of two.

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