Nagoya, Japan, November 23, 2009 - Cuba kept their 2009 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup gold medal hopes alive with an impressive 3-1 win over Iran in the first match of the final day of competition on Monday. The NORCECA champions came home 25-14, 25-22, 15-25, 25-15 but had to work hard to hold off a determined Iran side to end the six-team inter-continental championship with a 4-1 record, tied with Japan and one win behind Brazil who play each other in the final match of the tournament. Iran closed at 1-4, having started the tournament with a spectacular 3-2 victory over Egypt.
Cuba’s block was instantly in top gear, especially Osmany Camejo, and Iran coach Hossein Madani took off his free-scoring middle blocker, Mohammad Mousavi, when his team trailed 7-4. Cuba led 8-5 at the first TTO. Joandry Leal blocked Mohammad Kazem on the restart, and Kazem joined Mousavi on the sidelines. Iran, struggling to lift their game with usual setter Mir Saeid Marouflaklani out with an injured shoulder, took a TO down 10-5. Hamzeh Zarini lifted the gloom in the Iranian team with a pulverising winner from the left, but it was a rare moment of hope as Cuba rumbled to 16-8 at the second TTO. As the set progressed, Wilfredo Leon showed his prowess on the spike and block, and both Leal and Camejo plundered easy points down the middle. A clean ace from Camejo took Cuba to set point at 24-13, and Cuba closed it 25-14 on a serve error.
In the second set, Leal stunned a dozing Iran with two straight aces, and coach Madani took his team off down 3-0. The crowd urged Iran into the game, and they responded with more good work from the tireless Zarini, a left-wing blow from Arash Keshavarzi and a mighty spike down the middle from the popular captain Alireza Nadi Still they trailed 8-4 at the first TTO, and on losing the next two points to fall six off the pace, Iran called another TO. There was no stopping the red tide of points, however, and Simon, Leon and Leal hurried Cuba to 16-8 at the second TTO. The Iranian players began to relax as the second set progressed and even forced Cuba into a TO when they pulled to within four points at 22-18. Although Iran’s block interrupted Cuba’s march, the NORCECA champions had enough points in the bank before Sanchez drove them home, 25-22.
The players returned for the third set with the competition hall in a party atmosphere, and on losing the first three points Cuba replaced Leon with Henry Bell. When Simon was stunned by a Mousavi block, the Cubans called a TO but were still in trouble, 8-4, at the first TTO. Kazem, who went on to top score in the match with 19 points, caught out the defence with a gently dipping ace into the front court as the Cuban malaise continued, and Kazem turned up the heat with a trademark spike from the right for 12-7. When Kazem spiked again shortly after, the Cubans became involved in a long discussion over who should have been covering the space, while Nadi waited patiently to serve, knowing his team had finally turned things round. Leading 16-9 at the second TTO, Iran had the momentum, and a Nadi block on Bell increased the advantage to 20-12 and sent Cuba into a TO. Nadi began to dominate the net, picking off winners from well-paced sets, and Mehdi Mahdavi brought up set point at 24-15 with a block on Leal. An attack error by Sanchez from sloppy Cuban passing gave Iran the third frame 25-15.
Kazem, who had scored seven spikes in the third set, continued to trouble Cuba in the fourth, and Arash Kamalvand battered his way through the block to take Iran into the first TTO ahead 8-7 after they had trailed 7-3. A Sanchez ace for 11-9 Cuba sent Iran into a TO, and he followed up with an imperious spike from the right across court for 13-9. When setter Raydel Hierrezuelo blocked Keshavarzi, Cuba led 16-12 at the second TTO but still lacked their earlier fire and consistency. Hierrezuelo added a clean ace on the restart, sending Iran into a TO down 19-13, and Leal smashed a glorious winner from the back court to suggest the Cubans were back on their game. Another ace from southpaw setter Hierrezuelo made it 22-13, before Cuba finally ended it 25-15.