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Outsiders Croatia stun Cuba in three sets

Croatia's captain Maja Poljak shows her emotion following the shock victory over Cuba

Matsumoto, Japan, October 29, 2010 – Croatia, ranked 45th in the world, pulled off a huge upset on the first day of the FIVB World Championship when they beat world No.6 Cuba in three sets, winning 25-23, 34-32, 25-21.

Senna Usic Jogunica top-scored for Croatia with 15 points including four blocks while Sanja Popovic and Maja Poljak tallied 13 apiece. Cuba's Yoanna Palacios was the game's overall leading scorer with 18 points and Yanelis Santos added 12.

FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2010 official page

Palacios started off the match with a massive spike, but it was a false dawn as the early part of the contest was littered with mistakes. Ten of the first 14 points were decided by errors, Cuba edging Croatia 8-6 at the First Technical Timeout (FTT). The game settled down slightly but errors were still the main currency out on the court.

Croatia were 16-13 up at the Second Technical Timeout (STT) thanks to three successive receiving errors by the Cubans, and they maintained that lead at 18-15. A couple of decent spikes by Wilma Salas and some equally wayward hits by Popovic turned the game around but Cuba could not hold on to their lead as a netted serve brought the scores level at 22-all. A big block by Mia Jerkov on Gyselle Silva then put Croatia back in front and an errant spike by Rosanna Giel gave them two set-points. Cuba pulled one back on a long serve, but a spike by Poljak secured the set.

Serving and receiving errors proved the main feature at the start of the second set as the two teams once again failed to deliver consistent Volleyball. However, the Cubans were starting to find their spiking range by the halfway point, with Kenia Carcaces, Palacios and Santos hitting some hard shots through the Croatian defence. With the help of some Cuban errors, Croatia went on a five-point drive behind the serving of Marina Miletic but Juan Carlos Gala’s side then levelled at 15 each thanks to two rockets by Santos.

Croatia moved ahead again, though, and looked on course to clinch the set at 23-20 only for a netted serve by Jelena Alajbeg and two devastating, unreturnable serves by Palacios to bring the scores level again at 23-all. From that point on, the set refused to die. A combination of simple mistakes and brilliant spikes meant that the scores were still level at 32-32 before Usic Jogunica delivered the two spikes that put Croatia 2-0 up.

After Cuba went 5-4 up in the third set, Croatia drew level on a great block by Poljak on Carcaces and they then went two points ahead through successive blocks by Usic Jogunica. Cuba responded with blocks from Rachel Sanchez and Carcaces, but could not stop Croatia pulling six points ahead, through a couple of good points from Ana Grbac. From 14-8, however, the scores narrowed to 15-14 thanks, in part, to some strong spiking by Santos. Cuba stayed close but some fantastic defensive work by the Croatians secured them a famous victory. The Cubans' failure to get the ball back gave Croatia matchpoint and a big thump by Popovic sent Miroslav Aksentijevic's players into a mass celebration on court.


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