Culiacan, Mexico, September 28, 2003 - Mexico and Cuba both confirmed their spots in the semifinals of the XVIII Men's NORCECA Championship on Sunday after recording wins over Puerto Rico and Panama respectively in their final group matches.
Mexico finished second behind the US in Group B after defeating Puerto Rico 3-2 (25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 23-25 and 15-13), in one of the closest matches so far in the Championship.
The hosts began by winning the first set and finished the match with great work in the tie break to set up a semifinal showdown with Pool A winners Canada on Monday.
"We did well in our tactics but the game could have gone either way." Mexico head coach Marco Heredia said. "Our next match against Canada will be a very hard game. They are tall, strong and have a lot of international experience".
"I'm very happy," Ivan Contraras, captain of Mexico and top scorer of the match, said. "Because during these last two and a half years Puerto Rico has always beaten us. This time we took our chances and did it".
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's head coach Luis E. Ruiz was disappointed to go out on such an unwelcome note. "The match was defined during the fifth set where I think we lost energy. It was an interesting match, but both teams showed their lack of experience, work and support at international level".
In Pool A Cuba defeated Panama 3-1 (25-15, 22-25, 25-19, 25-8) to finish second behind Canada and will now play USA in Monday's other semifinal.
After winning the first set 25-15, Cuba lost its initiative in the second set and couldn't finish their attacks, but soon regained their momentum to finish the match in four sets.
"Our setter Javier Gonzales didn't play as well as he can, so that is why we substituted him for Maikel Salas," Cuban head coach Eliseo Ramos said. "From then on everything went as well as it could".
Jose Albert Remon, head coach of Panama, took a lot from the defeat. "This is a young team so I'm glad because at least we won a set," he said. "This is the first time we have played against Cuba since 1969."
Monday's semifinals will also be joined by the fifth place playoff between Puerto Rico and Panama.