All five booked their spot after an intriguing last weekend of action in the Preliminary Round, ahead of the Final Six which will be held across 10 to 14 July in Chicago, USA.

Iran were first to book their spot early on Friday after beating Serbia 3-1 (25-23, 26-28, 25-22, 25-19) in Plovdiv and stretch their record to 11-2 and an unreachable 33 points.

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Brazil followed them without even having played after Poland dropped their first set to Japan. The reigning world champions did go on to win the match 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-20) and stay in contention, especially after Italy fell to Canada 3-1 (15-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-18) later that same evening.

Saturday in Brisbane had three spots still unclaimed and defending champions Russia secured one of them. They were however made to work hard for it as opponents Argentina took them all the way, before eventually the Russians prevailed with a 3-2 (25-19, 22-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-11) win, a result which meant they were now safely out of reach of Italy.

That meant France (at 9-4), Poland (9-4), Italy (8-5) and Canada (8-5) were all in contention for these last two remaining berths, with Argentina having now dropped at 7-7 after their loss to Russia and unable any more to overtake the others.

The situation was made all the more intriguing as France and Italy were about to go head-to-head on Saturday in Brasilia. After a very tight first set, France looked like they would ease to a comfortable win, but Italy fought back and it took the 2018 silver medallists a lot of substitutions to finally get it right, securing the win 3-1 (27-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-20) and leapfrogging Poland to grab the fourth spot for Chicago.

It was then all down to Canada who were chasing Poland in the standings and they needed two victories plus also had to hope Poland would stumble against Portugal in their last match. However the Canadians were up against reigning Olympic champions Brazil – and playing in front of a typically partisan crowd in Brasilia. The hosts had already qualified and did not require a win, but they were playing in front of their own fans and despite the South Americans not fielding all their top guns, it was a quick and easy 3-0 success for them (25-20, 25-19, 25-19), meaning Canada were out, and Poland were in.

Down at the bottom of the table, Australia and Portugal were in a two-way battle trying to avoid relegation. They were two of the four Challenger Teams this year, alongside Canada and Bulgaria, but by the start of Weekend 5 it was down to the two of them as to who would survive with each having scored just two wins. Both lost their opening day matches, Australia falling to Russia 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-18) and Portugal to Germany 3-1 (28-26, 20-25, 25-20, 25-23).

On Saturday in Brisbane, Australia picked up their third win of the season, recovering from a first set scare to eventually beat bottom-of-the-table China 3-1 (24-26, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18). China were already guaranteed to finish last, but as a Core team were immune to relegation and still assured of a spot in the 2020 VNL.

The Australians did not have to wait too long to learn their fate as some hours later after the match in Brisbane, Portugal went down to Japan 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 25-20). The defeat dropped Portugal’s record to 2-12, meaning they are now unable to catch Australia and are relegated.

Portugal’s spot for the 2020 VNL will be replaced by the winner of the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup this week in Ljubljana, featuring Belarus, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, Turkey and hosts Slovenia.

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