Giola del Colle, Italy, July 21 - The world's elite women's volleyball teams launched an unrelenting attack on the underdogs on Monday in opening matches of the FIVB 2003 World Grand Prix, the premier annual tournament for women.
But hosts and world champions Italy, perhaps under pressure in front of their home crowds, conceded a set to Germany, on a day that saw all other matches decided in straight sets.
Italy beat Germany 3-1 (24-26, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22) in just seven minutes under two hours but Italian trainer Marco Bonitta said it had not been "a real win" for his team.
"We have a lot of pressure on us," Bonitta said. 'We are playing at home in front of our own supporters and we are the World Champions."
Italy's team newcomer Valentina Fiorin powered home 23 points to be best match scorer, with Judith Sylvester and captain Angelina Grün both scoring 17 for Germany.
After the match, Angelina Grün said her team had simply made too many small mistakes, even though, she said, they had "taken some good steps forward" in the tournament. Germany won the bronze medal at last year's edition in Hong Kong.
In other action the USA took on a youthful Cuba, sporting one player, Kenia Opon Carcase just 16 years old. But the more experienced Americans, with a heavyweight lineup of silver medalists from last year's World Championship, were, except in the opening set, barely troubled and took a clean 3-0 ( 25-22, 25-19, 25-14) victory.
"Cuba played well and with a lot of energy. They just gave away too many points," said USA's captain Daniella Scott.
Cuban trainer George Laffita Eider said he was proud of his young players. "They gave what they could." he said.
Earlier in the day Netherlands had an easy victory over Japan 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-19). They led from the opening whistle and overwhelmed the Japanese with solid attacks and blocks, particularly from Francine Hurmann, top scorer with 17 points.
Brazil also humbled Thailand 3-0 (25-10, 25-17, 25-11) in a match that was a warm-up for tougher encounters for the team that feels confident of a podium in this year's tournament.
"I think my team could win the gold medal," said Brazilian coach Marco Motta.
China also overpowered Canada 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 25-15) in a display that proved they are also among the top team this year.
"I do not fear any of the other teams, even if they are good," said Chinese coach Chen Zhonghe, throwing down the gauntlet.
Russia was still out, contesting the final match against Korea to complete the first day's play.
All teams labored under extremely hot conditions, with temperatures around mid 30's celsius here in southern Italy.