Belgian players celebrate a point during their quarterfinal victory against the Czech Republic

The men’s national teams of Cuba and Korea and the women’s squads of Belgium and Croatia are one step closer to competing in the Volleyball Nations League 2023 after they won their Volleyball Challenger Cup quarterfinal duels on Thursday.

The Volleyball Challenger Cup reunites eight men’s teams in Seoul, Korea, and seven women’s rosters in Zadar, Croatia, for four days of competition between Thursday and Sunday. The winners in both genders will be guaranteed a place in next year’s edition of the VNL.

· Watch all Volleyball Challenger Cup 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

The biggest surprise of the opening day in Seoul was the victory of hosts Korea against Australia. The Australians entered the Volleyball Challenger Cup among the favourites after they competed at this year’s VNL, but the home team used the support of their fans to win in dramatic fashion, pulling off a 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 25-18, 22-25, 15-13) triumph.

“It was our first match in quite some time, so we started a little nervous,” Korean opposite Subong Heo commented. “But the fans supported us a lot and thanks to them we were able to win the match. We had a very good strategy and that helped us win as well.”

Heo was instrumental in the Korean victory by scoring 33 points (27 kills, four aces, two blocks) while outside hitter Gyeong-Bok Na added another 20 (all in kills), including the game-winning point, which was confirmed after a video challenge request overturned the referee’s original call.

The other match in Seoul saw a comfortable straight-set (25-20, 25-19, 25-19) victory for Cuba against Chile. The Caribbeans benefited from 16 points (ten kills, four aces, two blocks) from opposite Jesus Herrera and another 13 (eight kills, three aces, two blocks) from outside hitter Miguel Angel Lopez, the Most Valuable Player of last year’s FIVB Men’s Club World Championship, to keep the South Americans under control during the match.

The Cubans used their physicality to overpower the Chileans and had a far more productive night than their opponents when it came to blocks (six to one) and aces (11 to six).

“With all due respect to Chile, we had a good idea of what to expect from this match and we wanted to make it an easier one,” opposite Michael Sanchez said. “We prepared very well to avoid any surprises and I think we followed our strategy in a very good way. I think we served really well and our blocking was also very effective.”

In the women's tournament, Croatia also made great use of their homecourt advantage to move past the quarterfinals. Playing in Zadar, the Europeans downed Kazakhstan in three sets (25-20, 25-15, 25-20) to delight their fans.


Croatia's Laura Milos spikes

Star opposite and team captain Samanta Fabris led the Croatian scoring efforts with 19 points (14 kills, four aces, one block). Outside hitter Laura Milos added another 13 with 11 kills and two aces.

“The atmosphere was really nice here and I want to thank everyone who came here to support us,” Fabris reacted. “We were really focused on what we had to do and I think we did a good job with that. It was a really important victory for us today. We're looking forward to seeing even more people on the stands on Saturday for the semifinals.”

The top scorer of the last two editions of the VNL, star outside hitter Britt Herbots led Belgium to victory in the other match that took place in Zadar. With 23 points (20 kills, two aces, one block), she pushed her team to a 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-15) win over the Czech Republic.


Herbots spikes past the Czech block to lead Belgium to victory

The Volleyball Challenger Cup continues on Friday with three other quarterfinal duels. The schedule in Seoul begins with the encounter between Türkiye and Qatar at 12.00 local time (3.00 GMT) and continues with the duel involving Tunisia and the Czech Republic at 15.30 local time (6.30 GMT).

In Zadar, the only match of the day will see Colombia and France clash at 17.00 local time (15.00 GMT). The fourth quarterfinal of the women’s tournament will see Cameroon forfeit their match against Puerto Rico after they withdrew from the tournament due to issues in acquiring their entry visas to Croatia, with the Caribbeans moving directly into the semifinals.