July 26, 2003 - Japan defeated Cuba and Thailand beat Canada in their final two matches in the preliminary round of the FIVB $1 million World Grand Prix, with all four teams fighting for the honor of going out in a blaze of glory, and to avoid finishing on the bottom of their respective Pool tables.
Japan overcame a sluggish start to test the young Cubans to a fiveŽ-set thriller that was finally settled 15-13 in the fifth set in one hour and 36 minutes. with Japan's Miyuki Takahashi taking top scorer honors with 23 points after a superb all-round performance.
Japan leaves the tournament with a 2-3 win-loss ratio, while the Cubans, the babies of the tournament with players as young at 16, return home having won just one of their five matches, albeit a 3-2 victory against hosts and world champions Italy.
Japan's head coach Yanagimoto Shoichi said he was happy with the win but "it is a little bit sad because we can not qualify for the final round.
"If we could have won one more match, which is within our ability, we would have a chance to advance."
Shoichi said his lineup had only been together for two months and for this reason, he was satisfied with their performance. "The team is growing up and there are still a lot to improve, but we have to do it step by step," he said.
He said, maybe with one eye on the World Cup in Japan in November, that the experience gathered at the Grand Prix was invaluable for the team's future.
Clearly Thailand decided to give everything on Saturday not to leave the tournament win-less and they walked off the court happy after their 3-1 (28-26, 25-18, 20-25, 25-22 victory over Canada.
Pleumjit Thinkaow for thailand and Candian stalwart Janis Kelly shared honors as top scorers, both shooting 20 points.