CAGUAS, Puerto Rico, January 6, 2004 - USA defeated Cuba 3-1 (25-16, 25-21, 23-25, 25-22) in a so called "NORCECA Classic" for its second victory in as many outings in the NORCECA Men's Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
In a preview of the likely "final" on Saturday both teams exhibited good blocking ability and offensive power and as both teams are considered as the favorites for the ticket to Athens 2004, Tuesday's win was a great fillip for USA.
The Americans played a dream first set and dominated the Cubans but the celebrations didn't last very long because of the loss of their regular opposite attacker Clayton Stanley, who suffered a finger fracture in an attempt to block Cuban Yenry Bell.
The defensive performance of libero Eric Sullivan was fundamental during the match, but especially in the fourth set when his superb receiving helped the Americans erase a 17-21 deficit and seal the victory.
"I think we played an almost perfect first set," said Sullivan. "But with the injury to Clayton maybe we lost some focus. Cuba is a great team and this victory is very important for us in our goal to qualify for Athens".
USA benefited from a good game by Brook Billing, who scored 16 points after replacing Stanley, while Riley Salmon had 13 and Reid Priddy 11. Cuba confirmed its continued improvement with Tomas Aldazabal and Pavel Pimenta scoring 19 and 14 points respectively.
"It was a great match," said Roberto Garcia, the Cuban coach. "Our blocking failed in some critical moments and that cost us the match. But half of the US victory was thanks to the great game enjoyed by their libero Sullivan".