Rome, Italy, October 9, 2010 – Not even a tournament record-equalling points' haul by Serbia's Ivan Miljkovic could stop Cuba from advancing to their first FIVB Men's World Championship final since 1990 as they won a sensational, five-set semifinal contest 3-2 (22-25, 25-17, 31-29, 22-25, 16-14) on Saturday.
Cuba, ranked 8th in the world, were firm underdogs having lost to Serbia in the second round here and also in this year's World League bronze-medal match. But despite Miljkovic's 30 points, the Caribbean team prevailed with the help of Wilfredo Leon, the tournament's youngest player at 17, who top-scored for Cuba with 23 points. Yoandy Leal contributed another 21 points and 'Captain Fantastic', Robertlandy Simon, registered 17.
FIVB Men's World Championship 2010 official page
The win broke a run of eight defeats for Cuba in their last 10 matches against Serbia and goes against the overall trend of 16 Serbia wins in the previous 23 encounters between the nations.
Neither Cuba, three-time medallists (one silver and two bronze), nor Serbia, 1998 silver medallists, have won a World Championship title but the Cubans will now have their second shot at glory 20 years after their first final appearance. It marks quite a reversal of fortune for a country that finished 15th in 2006.
Serbia opened the match with Dragan Stankovic serving and Miljkovic scoring on a counterattack to put the first two points on the scoreboard for Igor Kolakovic's team. An ace by Leal helped Cuba draw level at 7-7 before Leon centered an ace to make it 8-7 at the First Technical Timeout (FTT). Yet Serbia's experienced centres were making it difficult for Orlando Samuels' men to impose their explosive attacking abilities, even if Leon and Leal placed nine out of their team's 22 points, and the set was Serbia's. Nikola Kovacevic accumulated six points with an attack percentage of 83 while the pairing of Stankovic and Nikola Grbic recorded a 100 per cent rate in attack.
The second set crept along slowly with each point closely contested until the FTT was called with Cuba 8-6 ahead. Leon catapulted an ace across the net as Cuba stretched the lead to 10-6 and they kept up the pressure in attack to move further in front at 13-8. Serbia worked hard in defence but struggled to cope with the physical dominance brought to the Cuban attack by Simon and Raydel Hierrezuelo. Serbia's percentage rate in attack fell from 75 in the first set to 36 in the second as Cuba prevailed 25-17.
Although Cuba went into the FTT of the third set with an 8-6 advantage, Serbia's maturity and experience began to tell and they were 16-15 in front at the Second Technical Timeout (STT). Simon and Leal were almost extraterrestrial in their attacking efforts, scoring six points each and giving scant opportunity to the Serbian blocking machine, yet at the same time, the Cubans left open spaces for Grbic and company to exploit. Both teams produced courageous Volleyball but Cuba eventually won the set 31-29 thanks to their higher attack percentage of 74.
Serbia got on top in the fourth set, despite Cuba's aggressive approach to each and every ball. The Europeans kept their noses in front at 8-5, 16-14 and 21-19, reflecting the momentum of the set. With the score at 23-20, Simon served an ace for Cuba but the set was Serbia's with Kolakovic's men having improved their reception to 62 per cent.
Unfortunately for Serbia, they had merely delayed the final verdict. The fifth set produced an incredible show of determination on the part of both teams. Cuba battled with exceptional physical strength while Serbia demonstrated their expertise but ultimately, the Cubans came out on top, the galactic trio of Simon, Leon and Leal playing decisive parts as they won the set 16-14.