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US coach McCutcheon shakes off favourites' tag

Coaches in Matsumoto (L-R): Miroslav Aksentijevic (Croatia), Juan Carlos Gala (Cuba), Giovanni Guidetti (Germany), Nelli Chsherbakova (Kazakhstan), Kiattipong Radchatagrienkai (Thailand) and Hugh McCutcheon (USA)

Matsumoto, Japan, October 28, 2010 – The United States may have won this year's FIVB World Grand Prix, but coach Hugh McCutcheon is adamant that his team should not be considered favourites when they begin their 2010 FIVB Women's World Championship campaign.

"It was very important for us to have that result," McCutcheon said at a news conference on Thursday, one day before the start of the World Championship. "It was a huge success for us, given that we didn't even make the finals a year ago, but we understand that there are so many strong teams here.

"We do not consider ourselves favourites here. Our goal is to try and keep evolving as a team and to be playing at our best (at the Olympics) in 2012."

McCutcheon's protestations aside, the Americans will be seen as the team to beat in Pool C, where they will face Thailand, Croatia, Germany, Kazakhstan and Cuba in the mountain town of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture.

"These World Championships are a great test for our young players," McCutcheon continued. "We've been able to work on a few things that I think were weaknesses in the Grand Prix. We've tried to make some improvements and the team's been working very hard, so we'll see."

USA's first game is against Thailand, a team who have improved markedly under coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai. The Asian champions may well find it tough and coach Kiattipong was characteristically cautious.

"It will be a very hard game for our team because we'll be playing one of the best teams in the world and the World Grand Prix champions," he said. "We'll have to control our technique point by point and step by step. I hope our players will be successful in all the points we trained on for this game and that they enjoy the game and learn a lot from a world-class team."

Pool C's opening game will see a Germany team guided by Italian Giovanni Guidetti, up against the somewhat lesser-known talents of Kazakhstan, led by the only female coach in the competition, Nelli Chsherbakova.

"We're really happy to be part of this competition and want to make a great effort to impress the spectators," said Chsherbakova, who admitted that Germany were a somewhat unknown quantity for her and her players. "We had a game against them two years ago, but nothing since then, so we don't have good data about the German team but tomorrow's match will be a key one."

"Every first match is always complicated," Guidetti agreed. "It's the first World Championship for nine of my players and all my attackers, so it will be difficult tomorrow. Our opponents play good volleyball; they are tall, but play quickly. It will not be an easy match, so we will have to pay attention."

This will be Guidetti's second World Championship with the German team and he added: "We've worked hard over the last four years and we're proud to be here again."

Croatia will be at the World Championship for the first time since 1998, having overcome the likes of Hungary, Slovakia and Belgium in qualifying, but coach Miroslav Aksentijevic realises progressing to the second round will not be easy for his developing side.

"It's a great pleasure for me to sit here with so many great coaches," he said. "We're here after 12 years and will try to stay here as long as possible. It's a new experience for me and my team to play in a big competition like the World Championship, so I hope we play well and that everybody will enjoy our performance."

Croatia will be up against Cuba in their first game and Aksentijevic knows it will not be easy. "For everyone, it's difficult to play Cuba, but I hope we can play our best and I expect a good match."

Juan Carlos Gala, in his first year as Cuba coach, will be looking to help develop his squad while maintaining the traditions of Cuba as redoubtable opponents for any team. "We don't have much information about Croatia, but the first match for any team is always very tough," Gala added.
"It's our first match, so it's important to win the first one, just as it's important to win as many matches as possible because that's how you advance to the next round."

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