An iconic part of any multi-sport event, volleyball at the Baku 2015 European Games will showcase both the natural and architectural beauty of the host nation, with completion taking place on the sand at the Beach Arena and indoors in the iconic Crystal Hall.

It could also be a major opportunity for the sport in Azerbaijan, both in terms of improving the fortunes of the national teams, and more generally by boosting the popularity of both beach and indoor volleyball.

While the country's men are still ranked a lowly 102nd in the world, their female counterparts have risen to 29th after some strong performances in 2014, and are the 11th highest ranked nation in Europe.

They will take on the continent's biggest powers, such as Russia, Serbia and World Championships semi-finalists Italy, while Turkey, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania complete the line-up. It will be a major opportunity for Europe finest to prepare for an assault on the Olympic podium in Rio the following year, with Russian silver at Athens 2004 the last time any side from the continent secured a female medal.

Russia are also seeded first on the men's side, with Italy and Serbia will also be among the favourites, although perhaps the biggest challenge will come from Poland, fresh from their outstanding home World Championship victory in September. 

Azerbaijan will seek to cause an upset, with the line-up completed by Bulgaria, Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Slovakia and Turkey, while an extra boost for both men and women is provided by the opportunity to gain ranking points on the road to Olympic qualification.

Poland will be chasing a repeat of their World Championships success at Baku 2015 ©Getty ImagesPoland will be chasing a repeat of their World Championships success at Baku 2015
©Getty Images

"With Rio 2016 Olympic ranking points available for the European Games, we are assured of all the top teams of Europe taking part in Baku 2015," Baku 2015 chief operating officer, Simon Clegg said. "This means increased interest from our television broadcast partners, spectators and volleyball fans all over Europe."

Indeed, this has already been shown by the fact the German men's team opted to skip the International Volleyball Federation's (FIVB) World League competition in 2015, in order to focus on competing in Baku.

On the beach meanwhile, 30 male and female teams will compete, with nations permitted a maximum of two pairs in each competition. The entrants, to be taken from the FIVB ranking list on January 1, will be confirmed soon, but will include some of the world's leading duos.

Topping the bill on the men's side should be Latvia's world number one ranked Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, fresh from a sparkling 2014 season, while Adrián Gavira and Pablo Herrera of Spain should also figure prominently.

In the women's event, dominant teams from the likes of Brazil, China and the United States will not be present, but there will be a strong line-up nonetheless, with Madelein Meppelink and Marleen van Iersel of The Netherlands likely to face opposition from two strong German pairings. And, although they may not even by selected such is the strength in depth in the Western European nation, it was Germany's Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude who won September's Baku Masters Beach Volleyball competition in the Azerbaijani capital.

Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude won an all-German final at the Baku Masters ©BEGOCChantal Laboureur and Julia Sude won an all-German final at the Baku Masters ©BEGOC

The Netherlands' Reinder Nummerdor and Christiaan Varenhorst triumphed in the corresponding men's event.

Beach volleyball action will begin on June 16 and conclude six days later on June 21, while its indoor cousin has the most competition days of any discipline on the Baku 2015 sport programme, with action beginning on June 13 and finishing on June 28, shortly before the Closing Ceremony.

Yet, while top level sport will be to the fore next summer, there should also be a key legacy opportunity, with beach volleyball officials in Azerbaijan receiving training from international experts in order to boost the profile of the sport.

Experienced International Technical Officials visited Baku to educate National Technical Officials in the autumn, with 42 line scorers and judges receiving extensive training at a seminar led by Jeff Brehaut, an FIVB technical supervisor and referee delegate.

After the success of two World Volleyball Championships in Europe in 2014 - in Italy for women a month after the men's event in Poland - this work could help enable Azerbaijan to become a future hotbed for the sport.

Next summer's extravaganza should be a good first step.

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