Nagoya, Japan, November 22, 2009 - Cuba smashed Japan’s unbeaten record to pieces with a devastating display of power and precision in a 3-0 victory on Sunday night. The NORCECA champions moved ahead of Japan on the standings on points ratio after joining the hosts with a 3-1 win-loss record for the week with a swashbuckling 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 victory.
Even before the game started Japan had been guaranteed a medal following the defeat of Iran earlier in the day. This meant Japan, with three wins against no defeats, would secure at least a bronze – their first medal in an FIVB event for 32 years, since taking silver at the 1977 World Cup.
Cuba made a sensational start when captain Roberlandy Simon produced four consecutive service aces from 3-3 to 7-3, with a Japan TO after the first three of them. Mixing aggression with placement, it was a case of “Simple Simon” as he made serving aces look so easy. Cuba led 8-4 at the first TTO. As the set progressed, Simon displayed his awesome blocking power, Yoshihiko Matsumoto being the unlucky victim, and the outstanding spiking of Joandry Leal on the left helped the NORCECA champions into the second TTO with a seven-point cushion, 16-9. Fukuzawa was also on the end of a Simon block, and Japan had to work overtime to find an opening on the Cuban court. Setter Daisuke Usami offered Japan a glimmer of hope with a block on “Whirlwind” Wilfredo Leon, but Japan took shelter from the storm with a TO at 21-12. Simon pummelled a mighty winner at the net for set point at 24-17, and then closed it 25-19 with a similarly unstoppable smash. Simon chalked up 10 points in the first set alone, with those four service aces, three blocks and three spikes. Of further interest is that Cuba scored more block points (8) than spike (7) in the opening frame.
In the second set, Fukuzawa began to find some openings, and Tomimatsu spiked at the net in the blink of an eye, but still Cuba led 8-6 at the first TTO. Leon scored with a dipping ace, and Michael Sanchez stroked some languid winners as the attack remained relentless. Sanchez joined in the Cuban serving feast and helped himself to a double, and Leal bided his time on the left before unleashing more power smashes that buckled the attempted block. Cuba did not need to be given free points, but Japan did just this with some careless serving and trailed 16-12 at the second TTO. Cuba’s low serve reception was as good as their attacking game, and they were able to launch rapid counters on such a stable platform. Osmany Camejo stepped up the pace at the net as Cuba took the second set 25-20.
In the third set, Japan received an early lift with an ace from Tomimatsu, but Sanchez was in magnificent form and spiked Cuba into the first TTO leading 8-7. As the set progressed, Japan began to find more joy through Fukuzawa and southpaw Kunihiro Shimizu, who had been restricted to just two points in the first two sets, and the fans warmed to Japan’s fightback. The gap was only two points, 16-14, in favour of Cuba at the second TTO, but the Cubans cranked out the points through Leal and Sanchez, forcing a Japan TO as they trailed 20-16. The end was in sight when Leal blazed through a non-existent block with a back-court attack for 21-17, and Cuba closed the deal 25-22.