Five things to watch out for at the Volleyball Men's World Championship

24 of the world's best teams will be aiming for the coveted trophy in Italy and Bulgaria.

From continuing a run of success, to the fastest serve in history, to returning to former glory.

Here are the key themes to look out for at the Volleyball Men's World Championship that gets underway this weekend.

1. Taking the sport outside again

Traditionally, at the highest levels, volleyball is played indoors. However this years World Championship will take the game back outside, as it is most-often played around the world.

The opening match between co-hosts Italy and Japan will take place at the center stadium tennis court at the Foro Italico in Rome. The same venue that hosts the Italian Open tennis final will be converted into a volleyball court for an expected sell-out crowd of 11,000 spectators.

Although this will be the only outdoor match of the tournament, it could pave the way for more in the future.

2. Can Olympic Champions Brazil strike gold once more?

Following their triumph on home soil at Rio 2016, the Olympic champs will be keen to follow that up with a World Championship title.

It wouldn't be the first time the South American nation has managed to bag the two most coveted titles in volleyball at the same time. After claiming gold at Athens 2004, they went on to clinch the 2016 World Championship in Tokyo.

Only two other countries have managed to do the same. The Soviet Union took Olympic gold at Moscow 1980 and then the 1982 world title in Buenos Aires. While USA capped their Los Angeles 1984 Olympic success by winning the 1986 World Championship in Paris.

All eyes will be on the current top ranked team to see if Brazil can become the first nation to achieve the double for a second time.

3. Italy's hot handed Ivan Zaytsev

Italy have won the world title three times, but they last lifted the trophy in 1998 and have failed to make the podium since then.

However a silver at the Olympics in Rio proved that the co-hosts have a formidable squad, and with home ground advantage they could be poised to triumph.

One player to watch in their lineup is Ivan Zaytsev, who holds the indoor World Record for the fastest serve, clocked at 134 km/hour.

Zaytsev, who is also team captain, spoke exclusively to Olympic Channel and gave his thoughts on the tournament favourites:

So the teams I see at the front are Russia, Brazil and United States, they have the starting grid. We are a step behind but we can definitely bother anyone. - Ivan Zaytsev to Olympic Channel.

4. The Russian Renaissance?

Russia, under the umbrella of the Soviet Union, is one of the most decorated sides in the history of the World Championships. However the six-time title holders have gone 36 years without making it to the top of the podium.

But that could change. This year they claimed the inaugural Volleyball Nations League title in Lille. A sign that they have a strong squad capable of taking on the best.

And according to Italy's Ivan Zaytsev they also have one of the most feared players of the tournament:

Russia's opposite Maxim Mikhaylov stands out for me. I think right now he is the best in the world, he's been so consistent for years, it's amazing. He always delivers for his team, I think he is the most successful volleyball player of the last ten years. - Zaytsev

5. Pressure on Poland

Since beating Brazil to the the title on home soil in 2014, Poland have hit a run of poor form.

The reigning champions have not managed a single title since their triumph in four years ago in Katowice.

However in the run up to this tournament they've enjoyed some positive results, including finishing fifth at the inaugural edition of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Polish fans will be hoping that their team can begin the defence of their title with a win against Cuba in their opener.

In the meantime they can relive Poland's greatest volleyball triumph through the quiz below:

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