Brazil (BRA) vs. Canada (CAN) women - Pool 2 - Preliminary Phase #15439292

Ana Cristina scored 20 points in her first match with Brazil in over 11 months

Brazil pleased their home fans and started their campaign in the Volleyball Nations League 2024 with a four-set victory over Canada on Tuesday at the Maracanãzinho stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Last year’s runners-up China also began the tournament on the right foot in Pool 2, sweeping continental rivals Korea.

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The South Americans navigated three complicated sets before finding their rhythm near the end to beat Canada 3-1 (26-24, 23-25, 26-24, 25-12) and earn three points in the VNL standings and 2.85 points in the FIVB World Rankings, remaining in third place.

Playing her first match with the national team in more than 11 months, 20-year-old outside hitter Ana Cristina Souza had a memorable comeback, producing a team-high 20 points for Brazil, with 17 kills, two aces and one block.

Ana Cristina injured her right knee after the first week of the VNL 2023 and missed the remainder of the tournament, the Volleyball Olympic Qualifier and the majority of the club season with Fenerbahçe in Türkiye.

“It’s a great feeling,” she said after the match. “I was born in Rio and feel at home here, playing in front of my family. Debuts are always important and it was great that we managed to start with a win. I had to work a lot on my mental toughness during the time I was out because my recovery ended up taking longer than we planned and I didn’t have a lot of time to play for my club after my return. But I have great expectations for the international season and wanted to get here in good form to be able to give everything as we prepare for the Olympics.”

Middle blocker Diana Duarte and outside hitter and team captain Gabriela ‘Gabi’ Guimarães each produced 13 points for Brazil, who outscored Canada in blocks by 15 to five – Diana got five of those stops.

Canada had the match’s top scorer in outside hitter and captain Alexa Gray, who tallied 23 points (21 kills, one block, one ace), and also got excellent production from opposite Kiera Van Ryk, who added another 18 (16 kills, two aces).

With the set they won against Brazil, the Canadians were able to limit the damage caused by the setback in their Olympic aspirations as the loss cost them just 2.85 points in the FIVB World Rankings, keeping them in 11th place.

“We knew it was going to be a tough match against Brazil in their home court,” Gray reflected. “But I thought we had a lot of fight and we’ll go home with a lot of good things to look at. It was a good start for a difficult week here in Brazil and I hope we can bounce back and get some wins. We’re all hoping that we can qualify for the Olympics and there’s a lot of pressure. But we know we need to take one match at a time.”

Volleyball Nations League 2024: schedule and results

Brazil and Canada will both be back on the court on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro – the hosts will face Korea at 14:00 local time (17:00 GMT), while the Canadians will meet continental rivals the Dominican Republic seven hours later.

China prevail in the Asian Derby

In the first match of the opening day in Rio de Janeiro, China dominated Asian rivals Korea to produce a 3-0 (25-15, 25-16, 25-14) victory. The Chinese, who are sixth in the FIVB World Rankings, earned 0.93 points with the result – the Koreans lost the same amount and dropped from 40th to 41st.

Star outside hitter Li Yingying led the Chinese offense in the encounter, leaving the court with a match-high 17 points (16 kills, one block). Fellow outside hitter Wu Mengjie registered 14 points, two more than middle blocker and team captain Yuan Xinuye.

“Every match is very important for us as we’re looking to qualify for the Olympics,” said setter Xu Xiaoting. “We need to prepare very well for our next match because the United States are a very strong team. We’ll need to do our best.”

China (CHN) vs. Korea (KOR) women - Pool 2 - Preliminary Phase #15434914

Li had a productive VNL 2024 debut, scoring 17 points for China

The match also marked the return of Rio 2016 Olympic champion Zhang Changning to the Chinese national team for the first time since the Tokyo Games, in 2021. The 28-year-old outside hitter, who had to deal with several injuries over the last three years, came off the bench to serve during the third set of the encounter.

Korea’s leading scorer in the match was outside hitter So-Hwi Kang, who produced 12 points, with nine kills, two aces and one block.

The second day of matches in Rio de Janeiro, Wednesday will have the United States facing Thailand at 17:30 local time (20:30 GMT) and Serbia meeting the Dominican Republic at 21:00 local time (00:00 Thursday, GMT).

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