July 26, 2003 - World Champion silver medallists USA incurred their first defeat so far at the 11th edition of the FIVB $1 million World Grand Prix on Saturday when world champions Italy scraped together only their second win taking out their old rivals in a tense five setter 3-2 to round up the preliminaries of this elite women's annual volleyball tournament.
Italy came back from two sets down to finish a creditable third in Pool A behind USA and the Netherlands who won their place also the hard way, unseating Germany in the tiebreaker to spoil their chances of advancement.
Italian coach Marco Bonitta said he was now hoping to make the top three.
"I hope we can make top three in the final round, but I know we have to improve a lot," he said, adding that he was happy that his line-up was able to beat the USA.
´"It will not be easy because every team in the final round is very strong. We have play one game at a time, step by step and try to do our best," Bonitta said.
Earlier Korea shook up Brazil with a 3-0 slamming that sent the Koreans dancing with joy and brought the Brazilians down to earth with a thud, while Russia beat China 3-1. Korea, Russia and China make up the other three teams to go into the next phase of the competition.
Korea's 3-0 win took them straight to the top of the Pool B table, but Brazil's defeat was the end of the road after their head coach Marco Motta, Brazil's had come to the tournament confident that his line-up could take the title.
"We knew that this round was more difficult, but we lost this match and the qualification for the following round just because of our mistakes," Motta said.
Brazil finished with a 3-2 win-loss but it was not enough to carry the team further, an indication of how close the top teams really are.
Meanwhile, defending champions Russia tamed China 3-1 for their fourth straight victory and Russia and Korea both finished the preliminaries with four wins against one loss while the Europeans ranked first of pool B with better sets win-loss ratio.
"The final round will be difficult, but I think we can win the championship," a confident Nikolai Karpol, the Russian coach said at the press conference.
"Our defense and blocking were OK, but we could not hold on at the crucial point," China head coach Chen Zhonghe said, adding that serving mistakes had cost last year's runners up dearly. "We still need to improve on basic skills," he added.
Earlier in the day Japan defeated Cuba and Thailand beat Canada in their final two matches with all four teams fighting for the honor of going out in a blaze of glory.