Suphan Buri, Thailand, September 6 - Strong teams powered past less-ranked rivals on the opening day of the 2003 World Women's Under-20 Volleyball Championship with favorites Brazil mercilessly crushing Cuba in straight sets and Russia struggling to beat spirited Belarus in a hard-fought, 101-minute thriller.
Playing the day's final match, reigning world champion Brazil kept hopes of landing their fourth world crown intact after they took a stunning 3-0 victory (25-19 25-21 25-14) over Cuba. And in the other highlights match the 202-cm tall Ioulia Merkoulova powered the Russians to take the first set 25-18. Belarus, whose height average is 185cm against Russia's 186, recovered to take the closely-contested second set 27-25. However, Russia came out with determination and spirit to eventually take the remaining sets 25-22 and 25-22.
The Netherlands opened their campaign against Venezuela with the Dutch taking the two opening sets 25-21 25-22. Then, helped by their star spiker Manon Flier, who stands 192cm tall, Netherlands closed out the remaining lop-sided set 25-9.
In-form South Korea, second at the previous world meet in Dominican Republic two years ago, thrashed Puerto Rico in straight sets 25-20 25-18 25-13 to boost their hopes of taking their third title. They won in 1977 and 1981.
Hosts Thailand took two early sets against Algeria 25-13 25-21 before the African champions recovered to take the third 25-16. the lead changed hands a number of times in the fourth set before the Thai team showed their consistency and closed out 25-22.
In other action at the nearby Chaopha Hall crowd favorites China, whose youth squad landed the World Girls' Youth Under-18 Championship in Pila, Poland last month, got off to a magnificent start with a straight-set win over Ukraine 25-16 25-20 25-14. Germany also followed suit by outclassing Chinese Taipei 3-0 (25-17 25-21 26-24), while European champions Poland downed Turkey 25-14 25-22 25-20.
Thailand's 21st Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa presided over the colorful opening ceremony at the Silapa-archa Gymnasium which featured traditional music and dancing. The Prime Minister also pressed a button to illuminate a huge welcome banner to launch the tournament.
On Sunday, Algeria take on Venezuela, Thailand play The Netherlands, Puerto
Rico go up against Belarus, South Korea challenge Russia, Ukraine face
Germany, China take on Chinese Taipei, Turkey confront Cuba and Poland play
Brazil. Story by Preechachan Wiriyanupappong FIVB Press Officer