The four coaches involved in the top four semifinals (left to right): Hugh McCutcheon (USA), Vladimir Kuzyutkin (RUS), Masayoshi Manabe (JPN) and Jose Roberto Guimaraes (BRA).
Tokyo, Japan, November 12, 2010 – World No 2 USA have the tough assignment of trying to overcome defending champions Russia in the first top four semifinal at the Yoyogi Stadium on Saturday but coach Hugh McCutcheon fancies his side's chances against the six-time winners.
"I'm very happy with how our team has battled to get to the semifinal round," McCutcheon said. "But it will be a difficult match tomorrow. We know Russia is a strong team, however we look forward to getting out and competing, and we'll see what happens from there."
World No.7 Russia are the team to beat in this tournament. They are undefeated in their nine matches with just six sets conceded – a record only matched by Brazil. Having lost just six World Championship games since 1994, Russia, who have only finished twice outside the top three (sixth in 1986 and 1982) in 14 editions dating back to 1952, are strong favourites.
They topped their second-round group ahead of a USA side who reached the top-four semifinals by the skin of their teeth following Cuba's astonishing win against Italy in the last match of Pool F. USA lost two matches in the second round – to world No.1 Brazil and Italy – to finish second in their pool and the World Grand Prix winners have history against them with Russia having won 17 of the 28 matches between the two nations including five of the last six.
One of the most intriguing match-ups sees USA star Destinee Hooker (fifth-best scorer in the tournament) come up against Russian spiking machine Ekaterina Gamova (sixth-best scorer) in what could prove a monumental clash. The contest is a repeat of the 2002 FIVB Women's World Championship semifinal when USA beat Russia 3-2 in Berlin.
Russia coach Vladimir Kuzyutkin said: "I would like to congratulate all the teams who have fought this far. I wish them success as well. I don't know what others are thinking, but I'm happy with my team's performance."
In the second top four semifinal, Brazil take on world No.5 Japan at the Yoyogi Gymnasium with the hosts hoping to repeat their surprise victory over the Olympic champions at this year’s World Grand Prix. Three-time champions Japan have had a great run in the tournament in front of their home fans, only suffering losses to China and Russia to finish second in Pool E and reach the top four for the first time since 1982.
Now they come up against an unbeaten Brazil side who topped Pool F and look the only side who can seriously challenge Russia for the title. Recent history is on Japan's side given they overcame Brazil at the 2010 World Grand Prix in August but prior to that, the South Americans, who have yet to win the World Championship crown but were runners-up in 1994 and 2006, had won the sides' past 20 encounters.
Overall, Brazil have won 42 of 53 meetings with Japan. Despite a 3-1 loss to Russia on Wednesday the hosts have shown that their home support can give them an edge and they have a potent attacking threat in Saori Kimura, who sits second in the best scorers' table. With both Japanese and Brazilian fans providing plenty of noise, expect this to be a passionate exchange.
"Until now, our players have been very focused on the games," Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said. "Against the No.1 ranked Brazilians tomorrow, I hope we can play our very best, just as we do against any team." His Brazil counterpart, Jose Roberto Guimaraes, said: "I am very proud of my team, my players. We did a very good job until now, but we have two big steps to go. This will be a very difficult match against Japan tomorrow. We will try to do our best."
On the Japan team, Ze Roberto added: "We always talk about the Japanese defence. It is very good. But I think they have become better in blocking and attacking from the back-line. I really like the rhythm of the Japanese team. It is hard to play against them."