Italy beat Russia 3-1 (25-20, 17-25, 25-16, 25-23) in the tournament curtain-raiser at the Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium on Saturday, while in the other Pool B Preliminary Round matches Serbia beat Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-21, 25-17, 23-25, 25-21) and Brazil downed Algeria 3-0 (25-11, 25-11, 25-10). In Pool A, Cuba downed Poland 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17), reigning Olympic champions China eased past Venezuela 3-0 (25-13, 25-13, 25-18) and USA beat Japan 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-21).
Poland 1 - Cuba 3
Cuba came from behind to defeat Poland 3-1 in front of 14,000 spectators at Capital Indoor Stadium. The much taller Polish team gave the Cubans a hard time in the first set, displaying solid defence in the back row and at the net, while Malgorzata Glinka impressed on the left side of Poland's offence. The Cubans struggled at the net, committing two net violations, and could not get their attacks going. A fine Cuban comeback began in the second set as Yumilka Ruiz and Rosir Calderon managed to find a gap in the Polish block, with Ruiz at the heart of their best attacking play. The Cubans also improved in defence, covering Glinka in the front and at the back. The third set brought longer rallies as Cuba and Poland exchanged leads. Nancy Carrillo was a key player with several successful attacks in the middle. Carrillo continued where she left off fourth set and although Poland had their moments Ruiz soon secured the victory with a brilliant spike. Cuba captain Yumilka Ruiz said: "This game was pretty difficult from the beginning. We are very happy with this victory because it's not easy to win the first match of the Olympic Games. In the first set we made many net violations, so we just tried little by little to make fewer errors." Cuban Head Coach Antonio Perdomo said: "The first match of the Olympic Games is always difficult for any team. In the first set we made many errors, like the captain said. We made errors in our attacks and blocking and service reception. It took a lot of effort to block such high attacks from Poland, but we were very lucky to win the game in the end."
Venezuela 0 - China 3
China easily beat Venezuela in straight sets in front of 12,000 fans at Capital Indoor Stadium. Venezuela utilised their middle attack early but high-leaping Desiree Glod could not prevent China winning the first set. Service errors from both teams marked the start of the second set before China won 25-13. China won the third set 25-18. China's Ruirui Zhao led all scorers with 12 points. China captain Kun Feng said: "This is not the first time for me performing in the Olympics. But in front of such a large, cheering crowd, we were very excited. Of course we still have some pressure on our shoulders, but because of the home crowd, our motivation is strong." Said China Head Coach Zhonghe Chen: "This was our first match at the Games; we've been preparing for four years. Now the day we have been waiting for has finally come, so we're excited. We had a good performance, but we also made some errors, and we hope to improve upon those in the future."
Japan 1 - USA 3
In front of 11,500 fans in the final match of the day, USA downed Japan in four sets on a sad day for the USA delegation. USA Head Coach "Jenny" Ping Lang spoke about the death of Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of USA Men's Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon, who was stabbed to death earlier in the day in a tragic incident in Beijing: "We had a very difficult situation. I told the players to concentrate on the game, the game always goes on. We have to be strong and make sure we play our game and play for the USA. We were lucky because there were many supporters behind us. We would like to thank them for that." We were shocked. Most of the players called their parents. We were supposed to have a technical meeting but I cancelled it to give them more time. I told my players to be strong, we have a lot of fans. I told them we have to show spirit and I know it's difficult for players to deal with this so quickly. We had three hours to deal with everything."
Italy 3 - Russia 1
The 2007 FIVB World Cup winners Italy crushed 2004 Olympic silver medalists and reigning world champions Russia in the opening match. Italy started well and although Russia's Head Coach Giovanni Caprara of Italy tried to change the momentum by taking timeouts the Italians kept their lead throughout. Russia woke up in the second set. Against the taller Russians, Italy started to flounder at the net. In the third set, Italy abandoned their usual attacking combinations by executing more outside and back row attacks. Russia tried to shift the Italians' attacking pace by substituting their setter with Marina Sheshenina but to no avail. The fourth set was a very close affair, with the lead changing a number of times, but no team managed to break away. Service and blocking mistakes finally sounded the death knell for the Russians. Said Italy Head Coach Massimo Barbolini: "I think that we played a very good match because we played with good rhythm. The experience of the FIVB World Grand Prix has been very important for us. We played, we won, we lost, we have a good rhythm in play. I'm very proud of my players because they've been able to play a very good match with a completely new formation. It's important to start the Olympic Games with an important victory."
Serbia 3 - Kazakhstan 1
In front of Serbian President Boris Tadic at the Beijing Institute of Technology, Serbia, making their tournament debut, defeated Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan led from the outset with quick slide attacks and towering blocks but after the second technical time-out, Serbia adjusted their blocking and overhauled their opponents in the first and then second set with ease. The third set was more closely fought and Kazakhstan drew away to take a two-point win from a 23-all deadlock. Serbia started strongly in the fourth set with an early lead of 10-5. Top scorer Jovana Brakocevic and wing spiker Jelena Nikolic dominated the net. At match point, Kazakhstan fought hard and won back seven straight points to trail 21-24 but the gap proved too great. Said Serbia player Vesna Citakovic: "At the beginning our coordination was poor and then we improved and played better and better. In the third set our concentration was really poor and we lost that set. By the fourth set we started to improve. At the end the most important thing is that we won this game."
Algeria 0 - Brazil 3
Brazil brought in their big guns Marianne Steinbrecher, Paula Pequeno and Sheilla Castro to beat Algeria in front of 12,000 at Capital Indoor Stadium. Brazil dominated in the first set through strong spikes from Steinbrecher and Pequeno and claimed the set on a service error. The second set was won on a Fabiana Claudino spike. Brazil brought in new middle Thaisa Menezes and spiker Jaqueline Carvalho to replace Fabiana and Steinbrecher in the third set and the move paid dividends. Brazil Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes said: "I'm very happy because my team played in a balanced fashion. We were able to maintain good focus on attack and counter-attack. It was very important for us to start the tournament." On next opponents Russia, Guimaraes said: "It will be difficult to play Russia. We have equilibrium with eight teams here. It was important for us to start well. The next one, Russia (is strongest), and then Serbia, then Kazakhstan and then Italy. Every team here is very strong. We will focus on the next game every time."
In other news, Italy's Taismary Aguero has returned to Beijing after learning that her mother Dulce Fedora had passed away. The Cuban-born Aguero had left Beijing late Wednesday to visit her sick mother in Cuba but after hearing the news cancelled her plans and is now back at the Olympic Village.
The Men's Olympic Volleyball Tournament starts on Sunday, August 10. The opening day's matches see Italy play Japan, USA face Venezuela and Bulgaria compete against hosts China in Pool A and Serbia face Russia, reigning Olympic champions Brazil play Egypt and Poland take on Germany.
The second day of women's competition follows Monday. USA play Cuba, China face Poland, Japan take on Venezuela, Algeria play Serbia, Kazakhstan take on Italy and Brazil play Russia.
Volleyball legend Andrea Zorzi is blogging from Beijing with his popular "Follow Me" blog, linked to the FIVB website. Today he has an article regarding the sadness of the Italian Women's team over team-mate Taismary Aguero's mother's death, a video link with Aguero recorded a few weeks ago and an article on disappointed Head Coach Giovanni Caprara's failure to change Russia's mentality.