Florence, Italy, October 6, 2010 – Cuba served up a spectacular 3-2 victory (22-25, 25-23, 26-28, 30-28, 15-11) over Bulgaria as Pool Q concluded in dramatic fashion in front of 4,200 fans at the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence on Wednesday evening. Over the course of five hard-fought sets, Robertlandy Simon and his teammates earned themselves a place in the semifinals in Rome while Bulgaria had to be content with a ticket to Modena to fight for positions 5-8.
Cuba's 17-year-old sensation, Wilfredo Leon, scored 22 points and captain Simon added 20 more in the victory, with Rolando Cepeda contributing 15. For Bulgaria, Vladimir Nikolov led the scoring with 28 points, including a devastating tally of six service aces, while Matey Kaziyski registered 20 with four blocks. Cuba won despite 41 errors and Bulgaria's 16-9 block advantage; Orlando Samuels Blackwood's men made up the difference with a 76-50 advantage in attacks.
FIVB Men's World Championship 2010 official page
The first set started with Bulgaria pressing the young Cubans with some strong serving and lightning-quick attacks. At the First Technical Timeout (FTT) the Europeans led 8-2, but Cuba narrowed the gap as Simon picked up the pace. Cuba, enjoying noisy backing from the crowd, had found their rhythm but it was too late to stop Bulgaria prevailing, Kaziyski's final attack shutting the set down at 25-22.
There was nothing to separate the sides at the start of the second set. Cuba stepped up their blocking and defending while Nikolov delivered some killing shots for Bulgaria, ensuring parity at 8-8. Yet the Cubans began building a lead thereafter, with Simon's blocks proving particularly effective as Bulgaria suffered in both receiving and serving. Silvano Prandi called a timeout with his team 22-16 behind and they responded with a sweet five-point break. However, with an error on Todor Aleksiev's attack and a fabulous ace from Cepeda, Cuba took the set 25-23.
The third set provided a point-by-point battle with neither side able to get too far in front. Bulgaria led 8-5 and later, with Kaziyski contributing a couple of killing shots, they went 18-13 ahead. But Cuba fought all the way and with a marvellous pipe by Fernando Hernandez, they narrowed the gap at 22-20. Viktor Yosifov's stellar block gave the Bulgarians a lift only for Cuba to respond with a three-point break that brought them to the set-ball. However, Bulgaria hit back with two torpedo spikes and closed the set at 28-26.
Both teams raised their game in the fourth set as they each pushed for a place in Rome and the possibility of a place on the podium. At the Second Technical Timeout (STT) there was just one point between them and the contest could not have been closer until Leon brought it to a tie-break as Cuba won out 30-28. A wonderful spectacle had unfolded at the Nelson Mandela Forum and, not surprisingly, the tie-break was full of emotions. Cuba were now playing remarkable Volleyball and they led 8-5 at the change of sides; their superb blocks and brave attacking shots made the difference and their young, talented team duly concluded this extraordinary match by taking the final set 15-11.